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CBS's Kroft Downplays Harry Reid's Responsibility for Senate Impasse; Hints GOP to Blame for Deadlock

On Sunday's 60 Minutes, CBS's Steve Kroft tried to paper over Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's role in fostering deadlock in the Senate. Kroft spotlighted Reid's "responsibility" for setting the body's agenda, but quickly added that the Nevada senator has "just as much of a responsibility as Senator McConnell - to make the system work and to do some things."

The correspondent also turned to Steven Smith, who hinted that the Republican minority in the Senate was to blame for the "deadlock" in Congress, despite Reid's Democratic majority not passing a budget in over 3 years: "If you're in the minority...you know that if you can slow down everything, the majority will have less time to get to its entire agenda....when the minority blocks a piece of legislation, who does the public blame? Is it the minority for its obstructionism, or is it the majority that just wasn't willing to compromise enough?" He failed to mention that Smith is a former fellow at the liberal Brookings Institution.

Kroft interviewed both Reid and McConnell, and wasted little time before blaming both Senate leaders: "You haven't worked together. You have lots of important things to consider. Why can't you get together and agree on what to do about these major issues? Why can't you come up with a compromise?" He then outlined that "truth be told, neither party's done much to resolve their differences and have used every parliamentary trick in the book to obstruct each other's agenda."

The CBS journalist continued that "under today's rules, any one of the Senate's one hundred members can stymie legislation or judicial and executive appointments by simply threatening to filibuster and placing a hold on the bill or the nominee. It then requires a super-majority of sixty votes to proceed and the Democrats have only fifty-three. The Democrats have retaliated by using the rules to block Republican amendments to their bills."

Later, Kroft played hardball with both senators over the impasse. He led with his question that downplayed Reid's part in creating the deadlock:

KROFT: Senator Reid, you are the majority leader in the Senate. You set the agenda for the Senate. You bear...just as much of a responsibility as Senator McConnell to make the system work and to do some things....One of the complaints - and it has been directed at both of you and both of your parties - is that it's all become about political gamesmanship. It's all become about winning. It's all become about embarrassing the other party and blaming them for the failures...of the institution....You don't think that people are upset about the fact that – that both of you can't get together and accomplish things?...I think that's one of the reasons right now why your ratings are so low. You disagree with that?

At no point did the correspondent bring up the Nevada Democrat's recent hyper-partisan attack on the GOP presidential candidate and resolution to block his agenda: "Mitt Romney's fantasy that Senate Democrats will work with him to pass his 'severely conservative' agenda is laughable."

Kroft's clip of Professor Smith came near the end of the segment. He did follow it with a soundbite from Republican Senator Tom Coburn, who stated, "I tell people at home, 'You're lucky we're not in session. We can't hurt you.' We didn't create a whole bunch of new spending programs."

The transcript of Steve Kroft's interview of Senators Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell from Sunday's 60 Minutes:

STEVE KROFT: A lot of people - serious people - think that this institution is broken. Is it broken?

SEN. HARRY REID, (D), NEVADA: Our country is in a deep, deep economic problem. We should be doing a lot more than what we've done to address those problems.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, (R), KENTUCKY: Before this Congress is over, we will have passed twenty major pieces of legislation on a bipartisan basis. So, clearly it is possible to come together. What is not possible to do any longer is to pass trillion-dollar stimulus bills, ObamaCare, massive debts, and deficit. The American people took a look at that, Steve, after two years and said, 'Please, stop. We don't want any more of that. We want you to work together.'

KROFT: But you haven't worked together. You have lots of important things to consider. Why can't you get together and agree on what to do about these major issues? Why can't you come up with a compromise?

REID: We've run into a situation here where compromise is not part of what we do around here anymore. Now on your program, '60 Minutes', Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner said, 'I reject the word compromise.' That's exactly what he said. My friend Senator McConnell: "The single-most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.' And that's what's happened this last year and a half.

MCCONNELL: Compromise is sometimes very difficult. My 47 members of the Senate have very different views from Harry and his colleagues about how much government we ought to have; how much taxation we ought to have; how much regulation we ought to have. It is not easy to reach agreement when you have very different views, Steve, of the direction the country ought to take.

KROFT (voice-over): Truth be told, neither party's done much to resolve their differences and have used every parliamentary trick in the book to obstruct each other's agenda. As minority party in the Senate, the Republicans' favorite tool is the filibuster; a tactic older than this Frank Capra movie from the 1930's. (Clip from the movie "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington") By holding forth on the Senate floor for days on end, the minority can delay or block bills that have the support of the majority. (clip from the movie "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington")

FORMER SENATOR EVAN BAYH, (D), INDIANA: You know, a lot of us have seen 'Mr. Smith Goes to Washington' and Jimmy Stewart standing up, getting haggard, you know, all night, in the filibuster to stop some terrible bill. That doesn't happen anymore. Senators got to pick up the phone and say, 'You know what? I'm going to filibuster this thing.' Well, that's enough to stop it. He doesn't have to go to the floor and speak all night. There is no physical discomfort involved. So the – it doesn't really require a whole lot of sacrifice on the part of the individual member to bring the whole thing to a stop.

KROFT: Under today's rules, any one of the Senate's one hundred members can stymie legislation or judicial and executive appointments by simply threatening to filibuster and placing a hold on the bill or the nominee. It then requires a super-majority of sixty votes to proceed and the Democrats have only fifty-three. The Democrats have retaliated by using the rules to block Republican amendments to their bills.

REID: The Senate, in my opinion, Steve, has been buried in procedural – a procedural morass.

KROFT (on-camera): Senator Reid, you are the majority leader in the Senate. You set the agenda for the Senate. You bear a responsibility - just as much of a responsibility as Senator McConnell - to make the system work and to do some things.

REID: I believe that if you look at what Lyndon Johnson had to do when he was the leader, as I am. It was a different world. Why? You know how many filibusters he had to try to override? One. Me? Two hundred and forty-eight.

KROFT: One of the complaints - and it has been directed at both of you and both of your parties - is that it's all become about political gamesmanship. It's all become about winning. It's all become about embarrassing the other party and blaming them for the failures of – of the institution.

MCCONNELL: The American people are not as interested in the – the procedural nuances of the Senate as they are the results for the country. And when you step back from this and look at the results over the last four years, the American people give us a failing grade. They don't like what we did.

KROFT: You don't think that people are upset about the fact that – that both of you can't get together and accomplish things?

MCCONNELL: I think they're upset about-

KROFT: I think that's one of the reasons right now why your ratings are so low. You disagree with that?

MCCONNELL: I think they don't like the results and I don't blame them. I don't like it either.

KROFT (voice-over): All of this is just a reflection of the political deadlock gripping the country. And if you're having trouble figuring out who's responsible for the broken Senate, you're not alone. Steven Smith is a professor at Washington University, and one of the country's leading authorities on the history and workings of the U.S. Senate. He says it's all by design.

STEVEN SMITH, WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: If you're in the minority in the Senate, you know that if you can slow down everything, the majority will have less time to get to its entire agenda.

KROFT (on-camera): To keep the other side from accomplishing anything.

SMITH: To keep the other side - and this is a problem in – in today's Senate: when – when the minority blocks a piece of legislation, who does the public blame? Is it the minority for its obstructionism, or is it the majority that just wasn't willing to compromise enough to find the votes to get the bill passed? How does someone on the outside really know? You really can't know. And so, who are you going to blame?

KROFT (voice-over): It seems to suit a lot of senators from both parties, who can go home and tell their constituents they stood their ground, even if most of the problems facing the country remain unsolved. That will have to wait until after the election.

If you're looking for a bright side to all of this, we leave you with Senator Coburn.

SENATOR TOM COBURN, (R), OKLAHOMA: A matter of fact, I tell people at home, 'You're lucky we're not in session. We can't hurt you.' We didn't create a whole bunch of new spending programs. America got – probably saved five, six, ten billion [sic] dollars by the fact that we're a 'do-nothing Congress' – quote, unquote.

KROFT (on-camera): If you're one of the people who is not happy with the current Senate, chances are you're not going to be any happier with the next. Twenty out of the twenty-two incumbents up for reelection on Tuesday are expected to be returned to office.

— Matthew Balan is a news analyst at the Media Research Center. You can follow him on Twitter here.