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.
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