An Effective US Senate

November 12, 2012 at 6:28 pm | Posted in Dysfunctional Politics | 1 Comment
Tags: , , , , , ,
The gavel of the United States Senate, used by the presiding officer (Vice President or President Pro Tempore, usually). This gavel dates from 1954, and was a gift from India. It replaced a nearly identical earlier version which had been in use since at least 1831 and maybe 1789, but which had come apart earlier in 1954.

The gavel of the United States Senate, used by the presiding officier (Vice President or President Pro Tempore, usually). This gavel dates from 1954, and was a gift from India. It replaced a nearly identical earlier version which had been in use since at least 1831 and maybe 1789, but which had come apart earlier in 1954.

When Congress convenes next year, there will be a new Senate: the 113th.  It will run for two years.

There is a brief window of opportunity at the opening session of each new Senate to revise the rules under which that Senate will operate.

Harry Reid has been the Senate Majority Leader since 2007.  That period spans the 110th, 111th, and 112th Senates.  He is presently most likely to be chosen as the Majority Leader of the new Senate, as well.

Harry Reid (D-NV), United States Senator from Nevada and Majority Leader of the United States Senate, official portrait, 2009

Harry Reid (D-NV), United States Senator from Nevada and Majority Leader of the United States Senate, official portrait, 2009

Historians will lay at Harry Reid’s doorstep his failure to see and fix, at the beginnings of at least three Senates, the structural problems that have allowed uncompromising political partisans to turn the Senate into an ineffective body.  Those structural problems derive from the rules and traditions of the Senate.  Both the rules and the traditions can and should be changed.

The symptoms of the constipation of the Senate include
– delayed and prevented appointments of qualified, honorable nominees
for positions that need to be filled for effective government,
– delayed and prevented votes on important legislation,
– cynicsm and disgust by the American public,
– reduced appreciation worldwide for the advantages of an open society.

Harry Reid appears to be too uncritically attached to the Senate’s traditions to recognize the full extent of the changes needed to rescue the Senate from irrelevance.  His focus on the Senate’s traditions is destroying the Senate.

Even if he did come to understand what changes were needed, he probably lacks the spine to insist on them.  An invertebrate Senate Majority Leader is not what the Senate needs right now.

Ocypode quadrata crab on Martinique

Ocypode quadrata crab on Martinique

(The invertebrates include the crustaceans.  A crustacean has a shell, but no spine.)

Harry Reid should not be re-elected as the Majority Leader of the Senate unless he first guarantees that the Senate’s first order of business will be to revise its rules to eliminate all of the stalling mechanisms that now tie it in knots, so that it becomes an effective body.

The guiding principles of the revisions should be as follows:

(1) No individual or group can, without an immediately publicly stated reason by a publicly named Senator, delay voting on legislation or on an appointment.
Immediacy is required to prevent secret and anonymous holds, which use the present two-day delay to create de facto indefinite secret holds.  Each hold must be associated with an individual Senator, not with a party’s spokesman in the Senate, nor with a party’s delegation as a whole.

(2) The plausibility and validity of the claimed reason for delay should itself be subject to immediate vote, with the outcome to be decided by a simple majority.  Supermajorities should not be required, even to prevent a filibuster.

(3) Filibusters should be restored to their original form by enacting the changes advocated by the bipartisan organization No Labels.

The Senate’s job is to reach decisions by voting.  Discussion is a means to that end, but it cannot be allowed to become endless.

Here is a poll on these issues:

Should Harry Reid remain the Senate Majority leader if he doesn’t push at the beginning of the next Senate for changes to end the Senate’s constipation?

Should every hold or other delay in voting require a publicly announced reason for the delay?

Should it require sponsorship by an immediately publicly named individual Senator?

Should the claimed reason for delay be subject to being validated as being substantive, by an immediate vote by the Senate?

Should that vote be decided by a simple majority?

Should the Senate adopt the changes advocated by No Labels to the rules for filibusters?

Please feel free to submit in the comment box your suggestions for making the Senate an effective body.  The best submissions will be added to this blog post.

1 Comment »

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

  1. […] urged in a previous post in this blog, at the very first opportunity, Senate Democrats should elect a new Majority […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.
Entries and comments feeds.

%d bloggers like this: