Is the Senate Broken?

August 5th, 2010 at 8:15 am | 7 Comments |

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George Packer has an interesting article up at the New Yorker about the (supposedly) broken Senate. Packer’s article assumes that the Senate is horribly, horribly broken, and that assumption colors the whole piece, but he does provide a number of details about the legislative process in the contemporary Senate.

Though some on the left might take this piece as another demonstration of the need to get rid of the filibuster, the filibuster doesn’t actually take center stage in this article. Indeed, many of the procedural problems the Senate now faces (and it does face some problems of that nature) stem from increased partisan animosities, which cause members of both sides to derail debates and appointments using heretofore obscure procedural moves. Indeed, the attempt on the “progressive” front to destroy the filibuster is itself a symptom of these increased animosities, as a temporarily reigning left-wing majority tries to break any hope of minority resistance.

I think the despairing final paragraph of Packer’s article results from a kind of confusion:

The two lasting achievements of this Senate, financial regulation and healthcare, required a year and a half of legislative warfare that nearly destroyed the body. They depended on a set of circumstances—a large majority of Democrats, a charismatic President with an electoral mandate, and a national crisis—that will not last long or be repeated anytime soon. Two days after financial reform became law, Harry Reid announced that the Senate would not take up comprehensive energy-reform legislation for the rest of the year. And so climate change joined immigration, job creation, food safety, pilot training, veterans’ care, campaign finance, transportation security, labor law, mine safety, wildfire management, and scores of executive and judicial appointments on the list of matters that the world’s greatest deliberative body is incapable of addressing. Already, you can feel the Senate slipping back into stagnant waters.

There seems to be a presumption here that the Senate should be doing something on these issues. The desire for a government capable of responding to national issues is a laudable one. However, sometimes putting forth no plan for certain types of reforms is better than putting together a very bad one. Many of the policy positions of the current Democratic leadership and the president are both unpopular (see the latest polling for Obama on immigration, for example) and have undesirable results.

The Senate can certainly “address” these issues if “addressing” means passing legislation about it. On plenty of these measures, a centrist majority could easily be found; left-wing insistence and right-wing resistance has thus far prevented action on a number of these issues. This lack of action may, especially from a conservative perspective, be desirable, and there is no reason for members of the center-right to cede their convictions to left-wing radicalism. Compromise is only worth so much.

If “addressing” means solving these issues, that’s a much taller order. Certainly, the Senate did “address” job creation issues when it passed the stimulus. Its success in doing so has fallen far below the initial estimates of the president and his allies. The successful addressing of issues depends upon having effective ideas that are capable of gaining popular support. Perhaps unfortunately for the republic, no easy procedural mechanisms will ensure that these ideas rise to the top.


Originally published at A Certain Enthusiasm.

Recent Posts by Fred Bauer



7 Comments so far ↓

  • LFC

    On plenty of these measures, a centrist majority could easily be found; left-wing insistence and right-wing resistance has thus far prevented action on a number of these issues.

    Wrong. John Boehner actually said that it was the Republicans’ job to stop all Dem legislation, and that because they were in the minority they didn’t have to propose anything. And sure enough, they’ve proposed absolutely nothing of substance. Lindsey Graham is fighting for his political life simply for talking to Dems about solutions. Several very conservative Republicans have been booted in primaries because they were willing to actually, ya’ know, LEGISLATE.

    The filibuster is just a tool being used by a political party that is so corrupt and power hungry, they will let our country wither and die rather than allow the appearance of what they deem to be a “victory” (I solution to a problem) for Democrats.

  • msmilack

    LFC
    I agree with you

  • bamboozer

    I also agree with LFC, to that I add that thru the Senates “rules” they have managed to relegate Cogress to the back seat of government when the branchs are supposed to be co-equal. Further the Senates “secret holds” and “blanket” holds essentially allow one Senator to bring parts of the government to a standstill at will. Control the 100 little princes or do away with them

  • sinz54

    We conservatives will NEVER acquiesce in Obama’s attempts to drag the country to the left.

    If Obama had chosen to govern as a small-bore centrist in the mold of Bill Clinton, we might have found common ground.

    But Obama is trying to govern as LBJ 2.0–ramming through Congress one piece of liberal legislation after another–and we conservatives will fight that tooth and nail.

    This is a center-right country–not a left-wing country like Canada or the Netherlands–and we intend to keep it that way.

    During the 2008 campaign and immediately after Obama’s election, there was a lot of noise on liberal blogs and in liberal circles about “realignment”–that Obama could turn the country in a leftward direction that would last for decades, like FDR did or LBJ did. We even had Dems on Frum Forum “predicting” that would happen.

    We stopped Obama cold.

    I’m proud of what we did.

    Notice that all talk of “realignment” has now evaporated.

    Thanks to us.

  • LFC

    But Obama is trying to govern as LBJ 2.0–ramming through Congress one piece of liberal legislation after another–and we conservatives will fight that tooth and nail.

    List, please. I’ll take one off the list right away. Health care reform was extremely similar to the legislation proposed by Republicans in the 1990s, so calling it “liberal” would hardly be accurate, unless you’re stretching to the point of calling the 1990s Republican Congressmen “liberal”.

  • easton

    We conservatives will NEVER acquiesce in Obama’s attempts to drag the country to the left.

    If Obama had chosen to govern as a small-bore centrist in the mold of Bill Clinton, we might have found common ground.

    Too funny, yeah, and Bush with his negative win certainly ran as a small-bore centrist himself. And the reason Clinton became a centrist is because he had to, you do remember 94, right? Obama had significant majorities in the house and senate and so far he has enacted most of his agenda, yes it is not radically left, but it certainly is of the left and it was his duty and obligation to do so.
    The pathetic thing is how badly the Republicans have been obstructionistic. The only reason the Health care bill was not more liberal was strictly because of Conservative Democrats and Lieberman.

    Oh, and how is not having a sizeable majority in the House, Senate, and holding the White House not indicative that the people want the country “dragged” to the left. What an absolute fascist mindset to imagine that elections should not have consequences, that the clear majority of America should be ignored.

    As to myself, I absolutely accepted when Bush “won” in 2000 he had the right to attempt to enact his agenda. Democrats, of course, could vote no, but by and large most of the Bush agenda was passed, it happening to fail completely is a consequence that the agenda was a disgrace, but most sane people know that.

  • Rabiner

    sinz54:

    We conservatives will NEVER acquiesce in Obama’s attempts to drag the country to the left.

    If Obama had chosen to govern as a small-bore centrist in the mold of Bill Clinton, we might have found common ground.

    But Obama is trying to govern as LBJ 2.0–ramming through Congress one piece of liberal legislation after another–and we conservatives will fight that tooth and nail.

    This is a center-right country–not a left-wing country like Canada or the Netherlands–and we intend to keep it that way.

    During the 2008 campaign and immediately after Obama’s election, there was a lot of noise on liberal blogs and in liberal circles about “realignment”–that Obama could turn the country in a leftward direction that would last for decades, like FDR did or LBJ did. We even had Dems on Frum Forum “predicting” that would happen.

    We stopped Obama cold.

    I’m proud of what we did.

    Notice that all talk of “realignment” has now evaporated.

    Thanks to us.”

    All you’ve done in the process is permanently destroy the concept of ‘elections have consequences’. Using every procedure to prevent any debate or passage of bills, even small ones, has caused the legislative body to a standstill which will most likely be the norm going forward. I’ll be sad when I see Democrats in the minority if they use the same tactics that the Republicans have. Elections matter, and what has gone on negates the concept of that. If the minority can force the majority into a position where they can’t pass legislation because the minority has no interest in legislating then whats the point of a governing body?