The closer the polarized Senate gets to November's election, the harder it's been for Democrats to move a mound of unfinished business.
Right before Thursday's House vote to approve a much-delayed bill extending unemployment benefits for people who have been out of work more than a year, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, a Democrat from Maryland, deplored how the GOP had tied up the bill so long in the Senate.
"Millions of people had lost their unemployment insurance because we could not get 60 votes in the Senate," Hoyer said.
Even after Senate Democrats mustered a 60-vote supermajority and broke the filibuster, Republicans insisted on dragging out the debate one more day before allowing a final vote. In the end, only two Republicans voted in favor of the measure.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat, vented his frustration on the Senate floor:
"And time will just tick, tick, tick, tick past, with nothing being accomplished here," he said. "We could be working on jobs legislation, we sure need that; we could be working on energy legislation, we sure need that. There are a host of things that America would like us to be working on, but the side of this chamber that has the strategy to prevent anything from getting done, whose policy is 'no,' no matter what the question is, that's their answer."
So Thursday afternoon, Senate Democrats decided it was just not feasible to bring up an energy bill that also addressed global warming.
They instead turned to passing a long-stalled bill that would extend tax credits and loans to small business, in hopes of creating more jobs. Only one Republican, Florida freshman Sen. George LeMieux, is saying he'll back the bill:
"The money is going to small businesses, people who are really being impacted by this recession," LeMieux said. "The money gets paid back, it's deficit neutral. I think it's a good thing."
Still, LeMieux says even he can't promise to oppose a GOP filibuster of the very measure he's co-sponsoring; he says his Republican colleagues should be able to offer amendments to the bill. Democrats say such amendments are only meant to slow the measure down; Utah Republican Sen. Bob Bennett doesn't disagree:
"We Republicans who do not have a voice in what goes into the bill do have a voice in saying slow down, and I think we are saying it," Bennett said.
Are Senate Republicans simply trying to run out the clock? That could be. Texas Sen. John Cornyn leads the effort to replace Democrats with Republicans in November's midterm elections:
"I'm not for passing any more bad legislation," he said. "Anything I can do to stop bad legislation I'm happy to do until the cavalry arrives in November, hopefully."
Sarah Binder of the Brookings Institution says Senate Republicans are betting on voters being fed up with Democrats in November:
"It's Republicans realizing the midterms are drawing nearer, that Democratic numbers don't look great, that control of the Senate could be in reach," Binder said. "Thus it makes sense for them to do whatever they can to block Democrats from -- in part -- trying to improve the economy, since ultimately the midterm elections are going to rise or fall on what happens with the economy between now and then."
Before leaving for their August break, Senate Democrats hope to pass jobs legislation, a stalled war-funding bill, and confirm Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court. Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, says all that could prove a tall order:
"For those who want to obstruct ... the business of the Senate, this time is paradise," Wyden said.
And paradise lost for those in a hurry.