The following is a script from "The Broken Senate" which aired on Nov. 4, 2012. Steve Kroft is the correspondent. Ira Rosen, Gabrielle Schonder, producers.
On Tuesday, voters will elect a new Congress, replacing the one that's had the lowest public approval ratings in the history of political polling. Thirty-three seats are up for grabs in the U.S. Senate, which used to be known as the world's greatest deliberative body, a place where difficult issues were carefully considered, and debated until a consensus or a compromise was reached.
Today it's known more for deadlock, dysfunction, and political gamesmanship; a body unwilling or unable to resolve the major issues of the day: jobs, deficits, taxes and how to allocate $1.2 trillion in automatic budget cuts set to go into effect January 1st. A number of respected senators have thrown up their hands and quit, and others are speaking out against an institution many think is broken. One powerful senator had this advice for the voters.
Tom Coburn: The best thing that could happen is all of us lose and send some people up here who care more about the country than they do their political party or their position in politics.
Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma is one of the most influential and conservative members of the Senate. He's blocked hundreds of pieces of legislation that he thinks are a waste of money, but he is also one of the few Republicans, or Democrats for that matter, willing to cross party lines to help break the political gridlock that's kept the Senate from dealing not just with big issues but with basic Senate business.
Tom Coburn: This is the first time in 51 years the Senate has not passed a defense authorization bill, which directs where the defense spending going to go, and in terms of the priorities. Our commanders need that.
Steve Kroft: What about a budget?
Tom Coburn: Same thing. We haven't done that in four years.
The inaction certainly can't be blamed on a pressing legislative schedule. Take the week of September 10th, after returning from a five-week vacation, the senators had a Monday night vote and approved a noncontroversial judicial nominee.
Tuesday, their first full day back, there were no hearings scheduled, only a ceremony to honor the 9/11 anniversary on the capitol steps.
The only major piece of legislation to reach the floor that week was a jobs bill for veterans.
[Sen. Jeff Sessions: There are already six programs for veterans now and this would be a new one.]
The bill was defeated.
On Thursday, the senators were headed back to their districts without dealing with issues like the impending budget cuts to 1,000 government programs that will happen January 1st unless the Senate takes action. We did notice that they passed a resolution right before adjournment designating a day to raise awareness for elderly people who fall down.
Olympia Snowe: We should be individually and collectively embarrassed about our failure.
In March, Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine, announced that she would not seek a fourth term, citing frustration with the institution. She is one of the last in a nearly extinct group of Senate moderates who championed compromise. The others have died off, been defeated in party primaries or resigned. Snowe decided she could be more effective as a private citizen than as a U.S. senator.
Olympia Snowe: We weren't solving the big problems. And that's what really stunned me--