Saturday, May 12, 2012

How not to save the Senate

The Senate is terribly broken. While some ability for the minority party to have influence is a good thing, allowing 41 Senators to shut everything down is silly. Majority Leader Harry Reid is considering a change in the rules at the start of the new Congress next year. He raised this possibility after Republicans blocked action on what would normally be a non-controversial reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank. He is apparently considering lowering the threshold needed to override a filibuster to something less than 60. While this would certainly make complete gridlock less likely than it is now, it would likely lead to worsening polarization of the Senate.

As stated by Richard Mourdock, the newly-minted Republican nominee for the Senate from Indiana, there is this constantly-growing urge to beat the other side into submission by getting a unified block of 60 Senators to pass anything they want, ignoring the minority. But as was demonstrated by the Democrats in 2009-2010, that's very hard to do. Neither party seems capable of getting to 60 without using moderates like Scott Brown or Ben Nelson to steal some seats in generally-unfriendly states.

So barring massive shifts in the electorate, neither side would ever achieve a cohesive, monolithic group of 60. This reality necessitates compromise. If neither side can realistically ever get to 60, they will have to learn to work together to get anything done. (I'll discuss in a later post why the GOP might not actually care about getting anything done).

 If the threshold is lowered, say, to 55, well then a dominant super-majority becomes a more realistic possibility. So Mourdock's strategy of complete refusal to compromise becomes more viable, which is definitely not something we should be doing. By openly discussing such a possibility like Reid did today, he enables/normalizes extreme tactics which will lead us down the wrong path.

The best solution is to have voters enforce cooperation by voting out hardcore obstructionists. There will always be the large numbers of voters on either side who will always vote for their party no matter what (honestly, I'm probably in that category). But for voters in the middle who might vote either way, they need to consider the effects of each party on the process of government. By punishing obstructionists, these voters can help make Washington work again.

1 comment:

NWest said...

Perhaps the best way to save the senate would be to return the Senators to what they once were - statesmen selected by state legislatures, not by a popular vote. This would allow them to take positions of more nuance than politics often allows.