“Most accomplished” Senate in decades avoided most important issuesRead More
Congressional Primaries and Incumbent BehaviorRead More
“All men dread the power of oppression out of their own hands, and almost all men wish it irresistible when it is there.”Read More
Republicans make it easier for Democrats to obstructRead More
This week’s rush by Republicans to pass tax reform reveals the limits of majority rule in the Senate.
Early in the year, Republicans decided to use the special budget process known as reconciliation to pass their tax bill in anticipation of Democratic obstruction. They did so because reconciliation bills cannot be filibustered. The support of a simple majority of senators is all that’s needed to overcome any effort to delay an up-or-down vote on final passage.
This feature of the reconciliation process is the most well-known, given the tendency common today to view Senate dysfunction solely through the lens of minority obstruction. From this perspective, reconciliation offers the majority party a way to pass its agenda over the objections of the minority party.
But this is a simplistic view of the legislative dynamics inherent in reconciliation. It overlooks other features of the process that complicate the majority’s efforts to pass tax reform and exacerbate the Senate’s underlying problems.Read More
Democrats have threatened to filibuster Republican efforts to debate important legislation on the Senate floor. But this is nothing new. The filibuster has been used in the past to frustrate both Democratic and Republican majorities. It has prevented both liberal and conservative policies from passing. This has made it the bane of Senate majorities, their co-partisans in the House of Representatives, and the president.
Consequently, senators have proposed various reforms over the years to clamp down on the minority’s ability to delay the legislative process. Most recently, Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., called for changing the Senate’s rules to make it easier to start debate on the floor. He would do so by making the motion to proceed to legislation non-debatable (i.e., not subject to a filibuster).
But Lankford’s proposal is unnecessary. The Senate’s current rules already give majorities the power to end needless delays. And using those rules to clamp down on minority obstruction will be of greater benefit to Republicans than eliminating the filibuster, which would have long-term repercussions for the institution more generally.Read More
Congress is running out of time to fund the federal government for the upcoming fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.
In July, the House of Representatives passed four appropriations bills bundled together in a so-called minibus. But senators chose to leave town for their August recess rather than take up that spending package.
And there won’t be much time to do so when they return in September. The Senate is currently scheduled to be in session for only 17 days next month. The House and Senate will be on the job at the same time for only 12 of those days.
That doesn’t leave a lot of time for the Senate to take up and debate the House-passed minibus, much less the other eight appropriation bills that have yet to be considered by the full House or Senate. A short-term continuing resolution to keep the government open while Congress finishes its work appears inevitable.Read More
Look behind every major legislative success the U.S. Senate has had in recent years and you will find a small group of senators who negotiated quietly in private. Working under the supervision of party leaders, these groups are tasked by the collective, explicitly or implicitly, with resolving difficult issues, writing legislation, and helping to structure the process by which the Senate considers important bills.Read More
Healthy institutions require effective leadership. This is evident in the dysfunction surrounding the health-care debate in the Senate today.
Legislative leadership is difficult because legislators are notoriously hard to lead. This makes sense for the Senate, where the majority leader’s job has been described as “herding cats.” Nevertheless, some Senate leaders have been more effective than others.
This suggests legislative leadership is a craft. That is, it can be done well or poorly. Mastering it depends on correctly identifying the challenges and opportunities inherent in the Senate’s environment. It requires acknowledging that a leadership style that works in one environment may not work in another.
This is an important lesson for the Senate’s current leaders. How they practice their craft bears directly on how the Senate makes decisions. And the deterioration in the institution’s decision-making process has been a major driver of its current dysfunction.Read More
The Senate is broken, but eliminating the filibuster is only likely to exacerbate the underlying causes of the institution’s dysfunction.
This is not the conventional wisdom, of course, which maintains that it’s excessive minority obstruction that makes the Senate unable to pass important legislation. Proponents of this view point to the gridlock that results from the filibuster. And behind it they see ideological and partisan polarization, geographic sorting of the electorate, and the prevalence of special interest money in campaigns.
There is some truth in this diagnosis, for the Senate does suffer from an inability to overcome partisan conflict between its members and thus to clear legislation. In the name of ending gridlock, some would fix the Senate by empowering the majority to pass its agenda by ending the minority’s ability to filibuster. Yet while this might well improve the Senate’s legislative productivity, it would do so by undermining the institution’s ability to perform the other role for which it was created.Read More