Keystone vote exemplifies political dysfunction

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President Barack Obama delivers his keynote address at the Civil Rights Summit in April.
President Barack Obama delivers his keynote address at the Civil Rights Summit in April.

Judd Legum, editor-in-chief of the liberal website ThinkProgress, recently opined that the U.S. Senate holding a surprise vote on the approval of the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline was "why everyone hates politics." His reasoning had to do with the fact that the plan to build a new oil pipeline from Canada to the Houston area, a pet peeve of environmentalists, had been — until recently — passed by the Republican-controlled House of Representative but stalled in the Democratic-controlled Senate as a result of repeated dilatory measures on the part of Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada).

Democrats lost control of the chamber in the midterm elections earlier this month, but the new Congress members don’t take their seats until January, and Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana faces an uphill climb in a runoff election early next month. Landrieu, a moderate Democrat, supported the pipeline, and so the Senate reversed course as a favor to her and held the vote. It failed anyway. Well, sort of.

The Senate voted 59-41 to end debate on the issue, one vote short of the three-fifths needed to invoke cloture. In days of old — you know, back when politicians had backbones — there may have actually been a filibuster, Wendy Davis style, to block this proposal. But instead, the grandstanding plutocrats just used the threat of actually doing a component of their jobs to block the bill. Additionally, with President Barack Obama all but assuring a veto (and the votes not being there to override one), passing this hurdle would not make or break the proposal.

If I were in the Senate, I don't think I could have voted for the Keystone pipeline in good conscience. But I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I would not have voted for dilatory tactics if I weren't willing to put my money where my mouth is. Especially if it was not the last barrier before passage, but rather an pedantic distinction to protect a feckless chief executive.

That, significantly more than the vote itself, is why everyone hates politics.

Horwitz is an associate editor.