Monday, August 2, 2010

The Senate Ruined The Senate

Via The Atlantic's Joshua Green, George Packer adds C-SPAN to the list of reasons why the Senate has ceased to function, putting alongside air travel, an influx of former House members, reducing filibuster requirements, perpetual fundraising, and so forth.

All of these explanations ignore the obvious root cause: Senators ruined the Senate. Orrin Hatch, Ben Nelson, Olympia Snowe, Lindsay Graham, and all the rest of the bunch are human beings. Indeed, they're Senators—the type of person who is said to pride both comity and independence from party! It cannot simultaneously be the case that the forces of partisanship are unstoppable and that Senators so cherish the coziness of their august institution that nothing else ranks higher on their list of values. When mandarins like Howard Metzenbaum (D-OH) were in their heyday, the Senate operated on cultural norms that the filibuster was a rarely, if ever, used practice. Even though nothing in the rules prevented it from overuse, the men and women of the Senate decided not to go there. Today, a different set of Senators have made a different choice. It's tempting to blame this change on some cultural or structural trend, but doing so ignores the agency of the flesh-and-blood people who populate the Senate.


BruceMcF said...

Oh, YES, Howard Metzanbaum would NEVER have done anything to disturb comity!

The collapse of previous de facto rules seem to be a combination of the de jure reform of the rules no longer requiring someone to be present to help sustain a filibuster, which occurred at a time of substantial ideological overlap because of the Dixiecrats and Gypsy Moths ... then followed by the occurrence of a polarized Senate in which few issues would divide both parties.

In Metzenbaum's day, there were any number of bills where he was far likelier to get support from moderate Northeastern Republicans than from conservative Southeastern Democrats. That overlap is now gone.

And in the day when 66% of those present were required for cloture, everyone of the 33% rounded down plus 1 sustaining a filibuster had to hang on for the ride. The majority could go to sleep ... or to nap and plot a midnight raid. The minority had to be staunch in their opposition.

That would be the number one reform of the filibuster that would eliminate its casual use, if there is not a majority for eliminating its emergency use: changing the cloture vote to 60% of a quorum present for the vote.

Charlene said...

Opinstigators rule the world, evidently.

A Senator gets up and speaks, and then an opposing Senator gets up and speaks. One says white and the other says black and endless debate. Nothing happens. Nothing is resolves. The only reason they are speaking at all is so that they can tread water and stay in office, by pandering to the corporations they are solely owned by.

When we the citizens don't allow the latest blogger to print things out of context and then believe it without our confirming it, things will change. Until then we elect the person our friends and cable news talking heads push us to, and the Senators do what they can to be re-elected. Nothing gets done.