The Very Odd Couple: Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell
THERE has not been a fist-fight on the Senate floor since 1902, when the one-eyed white supremacist Benjamin Tillman (known as “Pitchfork Ben” after a threat he once made involving Grover Cleveland’s backside) took a swing at his fellow senator from South Carolina, John McLaurin. For the past four years, however, something resembling a protracted arm-wrestle has pitted Harry Reid against Mitch McConnell, the leaders respectively of the chamber’s Democratic majority and Republican minority. Their duel could hardly seem milder, fought as it is through obscure procedural manoeuvres with quaint names, from filibustering to “filling the tree”. Yet the stakes could not be higher: some time before the end of the year, the Senate must vote to forestall a frightening mix of tax increases and spending cuts which has already been enacted and seems certain to plunge America back into recession unless it is rescinded. Even more, perhaps, than Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, the two manipulators of the Senate hold America’s future in their hands.
Whoever wins the presidential election, after all, the Senate is certain to remain narrowly divided. Since the chamber’s rules allow a determined minority to hold up almost all legislation, neither party will be able to have things its own way, even if it waits for the next Congress to convene in January. So, irrespective of the election results, it will fall to Messrs Reid and McConnell to strike some sort of deal to avert the impending crisis.