Thursday, March 29, 2012

What should senators do?

Here is an interesting article published in one of the New York Times' blog today which is really worth reading. The author comes back on the failures of the Senate to create bipartisanship in the legislative process.

While she argues that governing in America's political system of checks and balances is really difficult, she insists that this should not be as impossible as it is now. As far as last month, Senator Olympia Snowe retired describing a Senate that "routinely jettisons regular order".

According to the author, not only do such rules as the filibuster and the holds  lead to obstruction in the legislative process, but the senators themselves and especially their leaders are responsible for this climate of hyperpartisanship. Indeed, as far as the healthcare bill is concerned, some Republican senators had started to work with Democrats on the bill, but the minority leader McConnell had already decided that all Republican senators should vote against the bill.

Not only should the filibuster and holds be reformed but the senators should also have a crucial role in reestablishing a climate of trust between the parties. Last September, Senator Alexander left the Republican Party so that he may be able to freely vote on bills proposed by the majority. It is only one individual step, but this can give us hope that some senators might be ready for change.


  1. This is a great article, and I think it shows the level of difficulty we're up against if we want the Senate to reform itself. We can talk about reforming certain rules like the filibuster or anonymous holds, but I think it's ultimately the culture of the institution that's going to need to change before any serious reform can begin to take place. Senators today show an amazing willingness to manipulate the rules purely for purposes of obstruction. As the article explains, the historical trust and respect that characterized the institution "has withered, leaving the Senate vulnerable to exploitation of the rules by the minority party and even by individual members."

    Even if the Senate is able to change its rules to make obstructionism more difficult, individual members may just find alternative ways to jam up the system. Without a corresponding change in culture and attitude, it's hard to believe the Senate can fix its own dysfunction. So that begs the question, how do we change institutional culture?

  2. I agree that this blog post brings up some great points about the role that Congressmen play in reforming Washington, and I agree that encouraging our legislators to reform themselves may be more effective than waiting on institutional changes, such as a change in the filibuster. In fact, forcing Congressmen to change themselves is likely much more practical than most of the projects our class presented (although it certainly comes with its own challenges, as well).

    I wanted to reiterate a point that one of the New York Times commenters made: if our Congressmen need that much reforming, then why did we elect them in the first place? What does it say about the American people if we can't elect Congressmen who are able to effect change in Washington? Should we be doing something to address the electorate's supposed "incompetence"? Would campaign reform—such as reducing or eliminating negative ads, or reforming campaign finance or establishing a new primary model—make the electorate more capable of electing competent candidates? I agree that the onus should fall on Congressmen, as well, but I think this article brings up a stark point about the American public's current competence—even if we don't want to admit it.