In his State of the State speech to the Tennessee General Assembly this week, Governor Bill Haslam issued a public call for political harmony and underlined his plea by referencing an all-too-accurate negative example:
"Tennesseans don't want us to be like Washington. They don't want continuous conflict. They do want principled problem solving," Haslam said, adding, "People are disheartened by what happens — or it's probably more accurate to say what doesn't happen — in Washington. They're tired of all the talk about the problems our nation faces with not many people trying to work together to find solutions."
It remains to be seen whether lawmakers in the Volunteer State can put their own partisan differences aside long enough to do constructive business as a unit. To be frank, the task in Nashville is eased by the simple fact of Republican supermajorities in both House, where they have a 72-27 edge over Democrats, and Senate, where the GOP majority is 26-7. It's pretty hard for members of a minority that small to be obstructionist. They don't have the numbers to resist the ruling party, either on policy issues per se or on procedural matters that can influence the flow and tempo of legislation. As a result, and, even though activists in the Democrats' state base may seethe over it, there is an increasing tendency for their representatives in the General Assembly to — in the timeless vernacular — go along to get along.
Some bad legislation may come of this state of affairs. Indeed, as we have often chronicled, it already has, especially with regard to social issues, teachers' and workers' rights, and, of course, guns. But at least, for better or for worse, government per se is allowed to proceed.
Things are otherwise in the nation's capital, where the U.S. House of Representatives has a Republican majority and one, moreover, with a core of recently elected hard-liners who regard compromise as being more or less the same thing as surrender to a mortal enemy. Conventional wisdom has it that when Speaker John Boehner tried to reach a "Grand Bargain" with President Obama, the more zealous Republicans in his caucus rebelled, threatening an insurrection and forcing Boehner to back off. (For the record, something like that may have happened in Tennessee to Governor Haslam, who reportedly wanted to establish a state Medicaid exchange under the Affordable Care Act but was warned off by key GOP lawmakers.)
In the U.S. Senate, current cloture rules, even as recently amended, make it all too easy for the GOP minority there to filibuster everything, thereby imposing a de facto minimum of 60 votes (out of 100) for passage of bills, rather than the 51 which would ordinarily constitute a majority.
Both Governor Haslam in Tennessee and President Obama in Washington have legislative goals in mind. Only action from within his own party can limit Haslam's success in achieving his, it would seem, while the situation in Washington is exactly opposite. Republicans there routinely threaten to shut down the government if they don't get their way. The effect of this attitude is that, in significant ways, they already have.
Which leads me to put on my Dr. Phil face and say what has to be said: It's time for Memphis and Shelby County to start seeing other people. We've tried for years to patch things up, to come to some sort of mutual understanding, but we need to admit that we have irreconcilable differences. We don't even know each other any more ...