More on government failure

I could post one link a day on the structural failings of Congress, it seems. Here's Paul Krugman on how the Senate has hijacked government operation by leveraging arcane rules that permit gross obstructionism. Exhibit A is Republican Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama. He's put a hold on all outstanding nominations by the Obama administration, around 70 senior posts, simply to get Alabama a tanker contract and a counterterrorism center. If it were a Democrat doing the same thing, it would be just as egregious, but it so happens that the GOP is turning into a joke before our very eyes. It's tragic, really, because our government benefits from a sensible opposition party to spur a competition of ideas. Instead, they're like a petulant child who, in a funk, answers no to everything just to be difficult. On the scale they're doing it, though, it's not annoying, it's dangerous.

How bad is it? It’s so bad that I miss Newt Gingrich.

Readers may recall that in 1995 Mr. Gingrich, then speaker of the House, cut off the federal government’s funding and forced a temporary government shutdown. It was ugly and extreme, but at least Mr. Gingrich had specific demands: he wanted Bill Clinton to agree to sharp cuts in Medicare.

Today, by contrast, the Republican leaders refuse to offer any specific proposals. They inveigh against the deficit — and last month their senators voted in lockstep against any increase in the federal debt limit, a move that would have precipitated another government shutdown if Democrats hadn’t had 60 votes. But they also denounce anything that might actually reduce the deficit, including, ironically, any effort to spend Medicare funds more wisely.

And with the national G.O.P. having abdicated any responsibility for making things work, it’s only natural that individual senators should feel free to take the nation hostage until they get their pet projects funded.

The truth is that given the state of American politics, the way the Senate works is no longer consistent with a functioning government. Senators themselves should recognize this fact and push through changes in those rules, including eliminating or at least limiting the filibuster. This is something they could and should do, by majority vote, on the first day of the next Senate session.