U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe urged the Senate’s leaders Thursday to start working together on ways to fix a handful of Senate processes that she says have resulted in nearly constant deadlocking in the 100-member body and disenfranchisement of the chamber’s minority members.
In a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Snowe wrote that she had “grave concerns with the Senate’s dysfunction” and that “we have an obligation to the American people to demonstrate that we have the capacity to solve these problems at this transcendent time.”
Snowe, Maine’s senior Republican senator, wrote the letter less than six months before she retires from three terms in the Senate. She shocked the political world in February when she announced she wouldn’t seek re-election to her seat, saying she was frustrated “that an atmosphere of polarization and ‘my way or the highway’ ideologies has become pervasive in campaigns and in our governing institutions.”
The Senate’s conduct has become a major issue in the race to replace Snowe.
In her letter to Reid and McConnell, Snowe told the leaders that the constant “threat of filibusters,” a procedural move in which a minority of senators can stall legislation; a “degradation of the committee process” that keeps legislation from being properly vetted by the appropriate Senate committees; and moves by the majority party to keep minority members from offering amendments to legislation are largely to blame for the Senate’s inability to function properly.
“[I]f we are to regain the confidence of the American people in the direction of our government and our country, it will require the highest levels of leadership re-establishing processes and regular order,” she wrote.
Snowe also said that senators need to get to work now — rather than after November’s elections — to address the impending fiscal cliff at the end of 2012, when the President George W. Bush-era tax cuts are set to expire and the first wave of $1.2 trillion in federal budget cuts are set to take effect. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke has said that confluence of fiscal events could hamper an already fragile economic recovery.
“It is imperative that we face the fiscal cliff in a systematic manner, so instead of waiting until after the election when discussions will be compressed into just a few short weeks, we will have already vetted the proposed alternative solutions,” Snowe wrote.
Snowe’s letter to Reid and McConnell came a day after the senator published a commentary in the Financial Times in which she urged the Republican party to stop talking about “scorched earth policies that raise the spectre of dismantling government” and pursue “strategies designed to unleash the innovation and entrepreneurial spirit of the American people.”