By holding forth on the Senate floor for days on end, the minority can delay or block bills that have support of the majority.
["Mr. Smith Goes to Washington": Great principles don't get lost once they come to light. They're right here.]
Evan Bayh: A lot of us have seen "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington." And Jimmy Stewart's standing up, getting haggard, all-night, in the filibuster to stop some terrible bill. That doesn't happen anymore. Senator's got to pick up the phone and say, "You know what? I'm going to filibuster this thing." Well, that's enough to stop it. He doesn't have to go to the floor and speak all night. There's no physical discomfort involved. So the-- it doesn't really require a whole lot of sacrifice on the part of the individual member to bring the whole thing to a stop.
Under today's rules, any one of the Senate's 100 members can stymie legislation or judicial and executive appointments by simply threatening to filibuster and placing a hold on the bill or the nominee. It then requires a super-majority of 60 votes to proceed and the Democrats have only 53. The Democrats have retaliated by using the rules to block Republican amendments to their bills.
Harry Reid: The Senate, in my opinion, Steve, has been buried in procedural-- a procedural morass.
Steve Kroft: Senator Reid, you are the majority leader in the Senate. You set the agenda for the Senate. You bear a responsibility, just as much of a responsibility as Senator McConnell, to make the system work and to do some things.
Harry Reid: I believe that if you look at what Lyndon Johnson had to do when he was the leader, as I am, it was a different world. Why? You know how many filibusters he had to try to override? One. Me? 248.
Steve Kroft: One of the complaints, and it has been directed at both of you, and both of your parties, is that it's all become about political gamesmanship. It's all become about winning. It's all become about embarrassing the other party and blaming them for the failures of the institution.
Mitch McConnell: The American people are not as interested in the procedural nuances of the Senate as they are the results for the country. And when you step back from this and look at the results over the last four years, the American people give us a failing grade. They don't like what we did.
Steve Kroft: You don't think that people are upset about the fact that both of you can't get together and accomplish things?
Mitch McConnell: I think they're upset about--
Steve Kroft: I think that's one of the reasons right now why your ratings are so low. You disagree with?
Mitch McConnell: I think they don't like the results and I don't blame them. I don't like it either.
All of this is just a reflection of the political deadlock gripping the country and if you are having trouble figuring out who is responsible for the broken Senate, you're not alone.
Steven Smith is a professor at Washington University and one of the countries leading authorities on the history and workings of the U.S. Senate, he says it's all by design.
Steven Smith: If you're in the minority in the Senate, you know that if you can slow down everything. The majority will have less time to get to its entire agenda.
Steve Kroft: To keep the other side from accomplishing--
Steven Smith: To keep the other side. And this is a problem in today's Senate. When the minority blocks a piece of legislation, who does the public blame? Is it the minority for its obstructionism? Or is it the majority that just wasn't willing to compromise enough to find the votes to get the bill passed? How does someone on the outside really know? You really can't know. And so, who are you going to blame?
It seems to suit a lot of senators from both parties who can go home and tell their constituents they stood their ground, even if most of the problems facing the country remain unsolved. That will have to wait until after the election. If you are looking for a bright side to all of this, we leave you with Sen. Coburn.
Tom Coburn: I tell people at home, "You're lucky, we're not in session. We can't hurt you." I mean, you know, one of the positive things about this year being the lowest product-- is we actually-- other-- we're on autopilot as a country. We didn't create a whole bunch of new spending programs. America got-- probably save $5 billion, $6 billion, $10 billion by the fact that we're a "do-nothin' Congress," quote, unquote.
If you're one of the people who is not happy with the current Senate, chances are you aren't going to be any happier with the next. Twenty out of the 22 incumbents up for reelection on Tuesday are expected to be returned to office.