Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Hate The Senate, Love The Senate Majority Leader

I think this Jamelle Bouie-Ryan McNeely consensus conflates two different things:

The Netroots Nation straw poll, conducted during the conference by Revolution Messaging, shows President Obama with an approval rating of 84 percent among the attending activists, journalists, and bloggers... By contrast, I'm sure that if you were to ask Netroots Nation attendees to give their opinion on the Senate, you would get abysmally low numbers. Nearly every complaint I heard was directed at the filibuster and Senate Democrats' inability to pass legislation without significant concessions to centrists and conservatives.
The institution of the Senate deserves all the hatred it gets. It's a chamber with ludicrous rules that prevents us from dealing with major national challenges. It systematically disadvantages progressive interests and helps conservatives. While the realistic path forward merely involves reforms like eliminating the filibuster and anonymous holds, I was nodding along when Dylan Matthews proposed abolishing the Senate altogether. The fact that we could get health care reform through it doesn't change this. The stuff that makes the Senate distinctive as a parliamentary body almost universally operated to make the legislation worse.

On the other hand, I'm quite happy with a bunch of individual Senate actors. I've been an off-and-on defender of Harry Reid for many years, and he justified my faith by really coming through for us on health care reform. He's trying to get legislation through a chamber with ridiculous rules, Ben Nelson, and Joe Lieberman. The more you hate the Senate as an institution, the more you should love the Senate Democratic leadership for somehow squeezing huge legislation through it.

4 comments:

Rousseau said...

Yes and no. I think we can list a lot of individual things these people have done that clearly were not optimal (let's call this set "Summer of 2009").

I think it's key to remember that what it takes to rise to being a senior legislator is not really a good abstract sense of game tactics and strategy, but whole other skillsets. And if you aren't a good game player, it's really really easy to miss the forest for the trees.

I think this is what makes the few legislators who are above average tactictians really stand out (Waxman, Frank, maybe McConnell). Not Reid I am afraid.

Neil Sinhababu said...

I'm going to go Reid > McConnell, at least in terms of who was more effective in achieving policy outcomes.

What happens in the wake of Scott Brown is the decisive moment here. That was a moment in which McConnell could've signalled willingness to compromise and either (1) gotten a far more GOP-friendly bill or more likely (2) led the White House down a wild-goose-chase wasting the rest of the remaining time. He doesn't do this, Harry and Nancy work it out, and the rest is history.

I guess the Summer 2009 point depends on how you see the leadership / committee chair balance of power.

Carl said...

I'm for eliminating the Senate, but I think you'd need 100% of the small states since the amendment article has a clause about protecting representation in the Senate.

The Congress, whenever two thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose Amendments to this Constitution, or, on the Application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments, which, in either Case, shall be valid to all Intents and Purposes, as part of this Constitution, when ratified by the Legislatures of three fourths of the several States, or by Conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other Mode of Ratification may be proposed by the Congress; Provided that no Amendment which may be made prior to the Year One thousand eight hundred and eight shall in any Manner affect the first and fourth Clauses in the Ninth Section of the first Article; and that no State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of its equal Suffrage in the Senate.

Neil Sinhababu said...

If you abolish the Senate, you still haven't deprived them of equal suffrage, right? Everybody getting zero / there not being a Senate leaves everything equal as far as Senate suffrage goes.

(Though I agree with you that this is not a feasible option.)