Here, in the Cirque du Senate, there is trash-talking, whining and finger-pointing, bickering and, occasionally, brief flashes of serious disagreement on policy.
But with the clock ticking swiftly toward the end of the year and a stack of stalled legislation piling up, little is getting done in the Senate these days. And tempers are starting to boil over.
Mr. Reid, who turned 68 on Sunday and power-walks four miles a day, ultimately did not perform any gymnastics. But his fury over the inability to move the Democrats’ legislative agenda seemed to have deepened since Tuesday, when he accused President Bush of “pulling the strings on the 49 puppets he has here in the Senate.”
That reference to the Republicans, in a speech on the Senate floor, prompted Senator Arlen Specter, Republican of Pennsylvania, to accuse Mr. Reid of violating a rule prohibiting senators from imputing “any conduct or motive unworthy or unbecoming a senator.”
“It is my view that being called a puppet is in direct violation of that rule,” Mr. Specter said. He added: “I wonder if he is up to the job when he resorts to that kind of a statement, which only furthers the level of rancor.”
On Thursday, Mr. Bush once again criticized Congressional Democrats, saying they were not doing enough to help homeowners hurt by the mortgage crisis. “The Congress has not sent me a single bill to help homeowners,” he said. (Senate Democrats blame Republicans for blocking such bills.)
The president’s comments further escalated a war of words that also involved Vice President Dick Cheney, who, in an interview with Politico.com on Wednesday, called the Democrats’ record “pretty dismal.” Asked what it was like to work with Mr. Reid, Mr. Cheney said: “Difficult. He’s — I’ll leave it at that. He’s difficult.”
Beyond the barbs, though, is a serious stalemate, with potentially grave implications. There is no deal on the federal budget, which is needed to prevent a shutdown of the government. The House and Senate remain divided over how to fix the alternative minimum tax, which will drill a hole in the wallets of 23 million Americans next year. In a bit of good news, the Senate agreed to resume work on the farm bill, which had been stalled for a month.
But a much-heralded energy bill, which the House approved on Thursday, was expected to fail in the Senate on Friday.
The stalemate is creating sharp tension not only between Republicans and Democrats in the Senate, but also between the Senate and the House, where Democrats have a larger majority and have been more successful in passing legislation only to see it blocked by Republican filibusters in the Senate.
“As an amateur student of constitutional history and as a member of Congress, I have come to the conclusion that the Senate was a historic mistake,” said Representative Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, the No. 4 Democrat.