Friday, December 14, 2012

"Change in Behavior, Not a Change in Rules"

That's what Lamar Alexander said that the Senate needs.

Truth is, he's right! The best possible solution to the currently dysfunctional Senate would be for the minority party to return to how things were before 1993 -- a Senate in which majorities regularly passed bills, and in which nominations were usually confirmed without a whole lot of trouble and almost always by majority vote.

The problem?

That's not going to happen. And Lamar Alexander isn't going to try to make it happen, as far as I can tell. Republicans, beginning in 1993 under Bob Dole and then in 2009 under Mitch McConnell, decided to exploit the rules to turn the Senate into a body in which everything needed 60 votes. It never had been that before. Is Alexander willing to commit to voting for cloture on all but a handful of top priorities, even if he opposes the underlying bill or nomination? Is he willing to find a half-dozen Republicans to join him? I don't think so.

Now, Alexander says he's open to rules changes but is fully opposed to majority-imposed rules changes; he believes that once that's done, it's only a matter of time before the majority goes the rest of the way and eliminates the filibuster completely. I think that may be correct.

So if that's what he really believes, Alexander shouldn't just be open to rules change; he should be actively pushing changes that would retain what he sees as the Senate's strengths, and rounding up Republicans to get those changes passed.

Indeed: in my view, the real threat of "the Senate becomes just like the House" isn't from one use of majority-imposed rules reform; it's from the status quo. The bottom line, as I've said many times, is that majority party Senators probably don't want a House-like Senate, but they'll prefer it to a Senate that can't get anything done at all. Want to save the Senate, Lamar Alexander? Reform it.

1 comment:

  1. I've been slowly coming round to your position on the filibuster, that it shouldn't be entirely eliminated, but you've hit upon here what I think is the main problem. That is regard to behaviors and norms regarding its use, and for me, its tied into how the parties are behaving much more like ones in parliamentary systems. So now the filibuster becomes too easy of a weapon to be used, because unless one party has 60 seats, it's simple to find 40 opposition members to oppose something just for the sake of it.

    The other thing is there are many veto points in the US system to prevent radical change. Hence, I don't think the filibuster is all that necessary now. Besides, there are plenty of other US Senate rules to clog up the works. The filibuster, as used now is unsustainable and unless you can codify its use for "just important bills" then I think it has to go. Maybe you could give it a number of times a session it could be used, but as you've said, once it becomes entrenched that the US Senate is a 60-vote body, there is no going back until the filibuster is gone altogether. And if the Senate became like the House, I don't think that'll be a bad thing. Other countries do it and it all works out fine.


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