Democrats, who control the Senate with 53 votes, counter that Republicans require Democrats to produce 60 votes for virtually everything and deny Reid approval for parliamentary steps that were considered routine just a few years ago. A long roster of presidential nominees remain stuck in limbo, blocked by Republicans.
"It's supposed to be deliberative. Instead now the floor is just a wasteland of quorum calls and lurching from one filibuster to another," said the Senate's No. 2 Democrat, Dick Durbin of Illinois. "It really, I'm afraid, has damaged the institution."
Relationships are frayed after workweeks that typically begin late on Monday and end by Thursday afternoon — so there's a lot less bipartisan relationship-building over dinner and drinks.
Since it takes 60 votes to do anything, virtually nothing passes that doesn't have the approval of Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. What that often means is that much of the real legislating is done by a handful of top leaders and committee chairmen, leaving most senators out in the cold.
After a meeting at the White House on Wednesday, GOP leaders emerged optimistic that the House and Senate would work together more productively on bipartisan jobs and energy legislation.
"I hope that the majority leader, who's responsible ... for deciding what bills we will turn to, will turn to bills that can actually pass and be signed into law," McConnell said of Reid. And both McConnell and Reid promise to revive the moribund appropriations process and try to pass the 12 Cabinet agency spending bills as separate measures instead of in an omnibus bundle.
Snowe sounds unconvinced.
"Unfortunately, I do not realistically expect the partisanship of recent years in the Senate to change over the short term," Snowe said in a statement announcing her retirement.
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