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60 Minutes interview showcases dysfunctional Senate

Published: Monday, Nov. 5 2012 4:12 p.m. MST

60 Minutes sat down to interview the Senate leadership, and the icy chill in the room brought painfully home how difficult it will be to get anything done, even with the fiscal crisis requiring dramatic action before the end of the year.

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60 Minutes sat down to interview the GOP and Democratic Senate leadership, and the icy chill in the room brought painfully home how difficult it will be to get anything done, even with the fiscal crisis requiring dramatic action before the end of the year.

"It was very chilly," 60 Minutes' Steve Kroft said. "They did not look at each other once during the course of the interview. They kept saying 'my good friend, Harry' or 'my good friend, Mitch,' but it didn't seem very genuine."

"Compromise is sometimes very difficult," Republican leader Mitch McConnell said. "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."

One of the retiring Senators, GOP moderate Olympia Snowe from Maine, told Kroft that the Senate's failure to engage tough fiscal issues ground her down.

"We're not dealing with tax reform," Snowe said. "We're not dealing with the debt ceiling crisis. We're not dealing with the automatic cuts. We're not dealing with expiration of the tax rates. I finally said one day, you know, "Is there something else we're doing that I'm not aware of?"

"Is that one of the reasons you left?" Kroft asked.

"It is," Snowe answered. "I mean, we're talking about issues that are looming on the horizon that threaten our well-being as a nation. That threaten our fiscal wellbeing as a nation."

In addition to complaints about hyper-partisanship, some point to how the money chase hurts the Senate. "It is not uncommon for the life of a senator who's running for reelection to be a fundraiser for breakfast, a fundraiser for lunch, a fundraiser for dinner," said former senator Evan Bayh to Kroft. Bayh also described going out to a car during a lunch break with a nongovernment cell phone to "dial for dollars."

But while Kroft pitches the dysfunction in the U.S. as something new, 60 Minutes archives suggest another storyline. Back in 1995, they did a focus group with nine voluntarily retiring senators who couldn't get out of the place fast enough.

Eric Schulzke writes on national politics for the Deseret News. He can be contacted at eschulzke@desnews.com.

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