Monday, December 3, 2012

Today in Filibuster Debate 2

One more from the NYT "Room for Debate" feature. Richard Arenberg doesn't mind the relatively mild reforms that Democratic Senators are talking about, but strongly objects to the process: "The crux of the problem is that once the precedent is established that a simple majority can change the rules, it can be done at any time. It is inevitable that within a short period of time, the majority will do what majorities do: take control."

I sympathize with the sentiment, but I think he's dead wrong on this.

Basically, all that prevents the majority from doing what reforming Democrats are threatening to do are Senate norms. Certainly, as Arenberg  understands, the actual rules of the Senate do not prevent a determined majority from changing the rules. 

He's correct, more or less, that majority-imposed new rules would violate the norm against fully exploiting the power of the majority party to change the rules.

But it's very unlikely that norm will survive the current situation, anyway. The 60 vote Senate just isn't stable; any long-lived period of unified government is going to produce incredible frustration and, with it, demands for rules reform -- reform strongly supported by the party actors outside Congress who Senators are most responsive to. 

The real way to prevent a simple party-ruled Senate -- and I agree with Arenberg that the goal should be to prevent it -- is to enact rules reform that will get the Senate working better, and thus removing the pressure for majority-imposed rule changes.

The bottom line here is that if norms were inadequate to prevent the growth of filibusters and the 60-vote Senate, then norms will be inadequate to prevent majority-imposed reform. That's true now, and it won't be any more true if Democrats break the barrier against majority-imposed reform in January. The only real hope of preventing another round of Senate reform is to get this round right. 

1 comment:

  1. Exactly right. It seems like Arenberg is also concerned about the "constitutional option," in that the next Senate should be bound by the rules of the former, or else they can change the rules any time they want to.

    News Flash: they already can. This is how Cannon was defeated; not on the rules at the start of a session, but on an appeal of the ruling of the chair in the middle of the Congress. Nothing makes the Senate any different in this regard. At any point, a determined majority of 51 can interpret the rules ANY WAY THEY WANT TO. If a majority can stand to endure the inevitable points of order, exploitations of the rules, etc, there's nothing they can't do in either chamber. It's the NORMS of the Senate--partially enshrined in their rules--that stop it from doing so.


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