Time for Progressive Senators to Be Obstructionist?

Globe on fire in folded human handsThe Senate blocked the Keystone XL Pipeline yesterday thanks largely to a coalition of progressive Democratic Senators who are emerging as a possible voice of conscience in the coming GOP-dominated Congress.

While the stoppage will certainly be temporary, at least from the perspective of Senate action, this new group voiced by Elizabeth Warren and including Sheldon Whitehouse, Bernie Sanders and Jeff Merkley among others appears, based on news reports, to be ready to play the obstructionist role so long occupied by the Right over the past six years. They are being called the “hell no” caucus and Merkley of Oregon drove a stake in the ground with his promise to “use whatever tools I have as a senator to protect the environment.” Yes, this includes not only filibuster, but a whole range of procedural tools that Republicans have jealously guarded and enhanced in recent years.

Meanwhile, outgoing Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has lost his grip on some of these left-leaning Senators. Claire McCaskill, for example, voted against Reid and told a reporter, “I’m not going to let them defund Planned Parenthood, for example.”

Unfortunately, a number of centrist Democrats — focused on short-term political goals rather than long-term human ones — is prepared to join Republicans in backing the horrific idea of the pipeline. That’s where the “hell no” caucus plans to do a lot of its work. It’s not only about the environment but it is about the environment. Global climate change is a real, imminent threat to the survival of the species and it’s essential that someone play a leadership role here. It would be fitting of a caucus of progressives played the same exact role of stopping all unwise legislation that the Tea Party did in the last three Congresses for the Republicans.

As Whitehouse said, “We will have more tools in the minority than we had in the majority.”

The net result may well be two more years of stalemate in the Senate, which is not good but is preferable to a dismantling of sound environmental policy by a Republican Party hell-bent on giving aid and comfort to the enemies of the environment who line their campaign coffers.

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