Well, it happened: Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius resigned before I could record the rap lyric I serve humans like Kathleen Sebelius, / reading Jack Handy and Marcus Aurelius. She also resigned before I could design and construct the machine that would allow me to join the Beastie Boys in a time when that rhyme scheme was appropriate, but that’s the thing about building a time machine. You can finish it whenever. Today is Friday, and we’ll bestow our gifts on the people when we damn well please. Won’t you do a basically adequate job of serving humanity with me?
On Monday, Senator Jim DeMint (R–SC, net worth $40,000?) announced that he would personally place holds on all Senate legislation not submitted to his office by Tuesday night. Typically, the Senate passes several bills by unanimous consent in the days leading up to the October recess, which will begin at the close of business Friday. Citing concern for our federal deficit, DeMint’s office circulated a memo reading, “If there are any bills you would like cleared before we go out, please get them to the Steering Committee staff … by close-of-business on Tuesday.” The Steering Committee, of which DeMint is the chair, is a group of conservative Republicans that meets to discuss legislation but has no official authority over what comes to the floor. At least it didn’t, until DeMint realized that one man could use procedural rules to obstruct the Senate indefinitely. If that sounds unfair to you, you’re not alone. “Who’s running the Senate, Minority Leader McConnell or King DeMint?” said a spokesman for Harry Reid’s office.
Lately, watching the Democratic senatorial caucus has been like watching your toddler take his first few tentative steps forward, only to see the cat, shriek in terror and sit down until someone tells him what to do. Yesterday, the Senate voted 56 to 43 to begin debate on the Pentagon spending bill that would have ended Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. If you’ve been unfamiliar with the last two years of Senate proceedings, 56 to 43 is a loss. Because of the threat of filibuster, Democrats need 60 votes to win anything, whereas the Republicans need 41. Never mind that the filibuster hasn’t actually been used since the Democrats won the Presidency and both houses of Congress. Republican senators might do it, and that’s why Democrats scrambled and compromised to get 60 votes to pass health care, 60 votes to pass financial reform, 60 votes to pass anything more significant than a renewal of Flag Day. So, having won the vote to move forward with a plan to repeal DADT supported by the President, the Secretary of Defense and the chairman of the Join Chiefs of Staff, Democrats in the Senate conceded defeat.
Let’s quickly make a distinction about the word “perfect” above: I don’t mean “good politics,” so much as “politics untainted by any element of government.” The Ground Zero Mosque—located two blocks from the site of the former World Trade Center, and therefore separated from that hallowed ground only by the Ground Zero Chinese Takeout Place, the Ground Zero Strip Club and the Ground Zero Dunkin’ Donuts—will be built on private property. No governing body, from the City of New York City to the executive branch of the United States, can actually stop it. Yet politicians across the country have announced their opposition to its construction as if they could do something about it. One suspects that it’s precisely because they can’t.
Late Thursday night—while the rest of us were having a dream in which we go to the bank and the teller says “Your account has accumulated substantial interest, Mr. Brooks,” before opening a vault full of zombies, zombies—Congress did not pass an unemployment benefits extension. Already we enter the realm of subjectivity. In strict, learn-about-it-in-high-school journalism practice, one is discouraged from constructing stories around what did not happen.* The headline on the AP story—Congress fails to pass an extension of jobless benefits—has the word “fail” right in it, as if passing the bill to postpone expiry of unemployment benefits for one million Americans were something the legislative branch meant to do and just couldn’t put together. In some sense, that’s kind of accurate. The Senate voted 57–41 in favor of the bill, but a Republican filibuster derailed it during procedure. Those are the facts. What happened depends on what news you read.