Watching the Senate work is, in the words of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., a bit like making sausage. Sure, what comes out is tasty legislation, but the innards are not something on which to dwell. It's gross.
The legislative hot dog senators served up this week for constituents back home during 4th of July barbecues -- funding for the war in Iraq, a new GI Bill and an extension of unemployment benefits -- is much less filling than senators had originally envisioned. Three of the four bills they had planned to pass were derailed by filibusters from both sides of the aisle.
It was an ambitious schedule senators set for themselves at the beginning of the week, but after a month of partisan logjam, they had a lot to get done. And there were glimmers of hope. A housing rescue package got 83 votes, a veto-proof majority early in the week. A bill to stop cuts in Medicare payments to doctors got remarkable support from both parties in the House.
But as the week wore on, the partisanship continued, and thanks to filibusters on both the right and the left, senators left for their 4th of July recess late Thursday night, putting off votes on three important and timely bills, each with broad bipartisan support.
At the end of the night, only the war funding bill, which included a sweeping realignment of the GI Bill to give veterans a free ride at state colleges and a 13-week extension of federal unemployment insurance benefits, had passed. That's only one piece of legislation, one of the four things on the agenda this week, that will have passed.
"The Senate has been doing this for 230-some-odd years, and that's how it works," said Reid. "You watch the legislative process in action and it is like watching the stuff they put in a hot dog. It's probably not too pleasant to watch, but it tastes pretty good when you chomp on it. And that's what this legislation's all about."
Senators did not show themselves to be very effective butchers this week.
The first piece of legislation to be cast down on the Senate floor was a much-vaunted Housing rescue package, which had been in the works all month and would have created a voluntary program for lenders and some subprime borrowers at risk of foreclosure to refinance into private but federally backed mortgages.
It also would have given $8,000 to first-time home buyers purchasing a foreclosure property, permanently updated the FHA and committed $4 billion for communities to buy foreclosure properties.
Democrats pulled the housing rescue package Wednesday night even though it appeared to enjoy a veto-proof majority in a test vote.
With more than 8,000 Americans entering foreclosure each day, Democrats were howling at Republicans who oppose the bill for insisting that an unrelated $8 billion energy tax credit bill be attached. It would have put the package in jeopardy among House Democrats who have begun insisting that all tax credits be accounted for with tax hikes elsewhere.