Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Future of the Senate

Lloyd Bentsen and his brand of center-out coalition building are not walking through that door.
Atrios makes a very insightful point about Senate procedure carrying with it an assumption that no one will ever actually use procedure to the fullest. The latest GOP attempts to grind Senate business to a halt—ending Committee hearings that last longer than 2 hours, putting dozens of nonsense amendments up for a vote during reconciliation—combined with the Bunning/Shelby escalations suggest that the norms of the Senate have broken down. The rules of the Senate are such that everyone has the right to be a dick by, say, threatening to filibuster every bill or every nomination, but for decades there was an understanding that being a dick wasn't something that happened on a regular basis. Mark Schmitt made this point much more eloquently five years ago, so you should just go read his essay on the subject.

If you think about it, with the exception of a brief moment in the mid-90s after Clinton broke the all-opposition-all-the-time stance of the GOP, through maybe NCLB, the Senate has been in some form of partisan operation for the last 20 years. Based on the seniority table, this means that for over two-thirds of the Senate, a partisan Senate is the rule and not the exception. In addition, a fair number of Senators started their careers in the House. Under these circumstances, either the members need to adapt to the rules, or the rules need to adapt to the members. The current situation where the rules assume Senators will be restrained in their exercise of power, but the culture of the World's Most Dysfunctional Deliberative body does little to encourage restraint, is simply unsustainable.


low-tech cyclist said...

As I said this morning over at Cogblog, I think that if this 2pm shutdown keeps up for a few more days, the Senate Dems should use it as an excuse to begin rewriting the Senate rulebook.

If they were to invoke the Senate's authority to set its own rules per Article I, Section 5 in order to rewrite the rule that lets the GOP shut down every Senate committee meeting at 2pm, sure, the right-wing noise machine would throw a fit.

But here's the deal: nobody would be able to tell it apart from all their other fits anymore. They've already thrown a fit over a "nuclear option" by which they meant budget reconciliation. Then they threw another fit over "demon pass" which the House GOP has made frequent use of in recent years. (Just as the Senate GOP made frequent use of reconciliation.)

They've cried 'wolf.' So let them cry again.

All Reid, Biden, etc. have to do is calmly say, yeah, those silly Republicans, they call everything a 'nuclear option' or a 'demon pass' or 'Armageddon' or something. There's nothing nuclear going on here; we just think that the minority shouldn't be able to block every last Senate subcommittee from getting the people's business done every time they get their panties in a twist.

Then when Biden overruled the parliamentarian, clearing the way for a Senate vote amending Rule 26, the world would not come to an end. Out in the real world, it would be impossible for the GOP to paint themselves as victims of an out-of-control Democratic majority. Outside of some right-wing political junkies, nobody would care.

And Biden and Reid would have re-established the precedent that a majority of the Senate can determine Senate rules, without the sky falling in. So when they get around to reforming the filibuster, they'd be going down a road they'd already successfully traveled.

SB Gypsy said...

The Dems need to learn to say this:

"There they go again"

In the same way Regan said it over and over...