POLITICAL observations & opinions

* the US Senate … what’s wrong with our government

Posted by Lew Weinstein on September 2, 2010

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If you want to know what’s wrong with government in America, you could begin with this article from a recent New Yorker … The Empty Chamber (US Senate) … George Packer – New Yorker 8-9-10 …

Here are some extracts … read the entire article at … http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2010/08/09/100809fa_fact_packer

  • Under McConnell, Republicans have consistently consumed as much of the Senate’s calendar as possible with legislative maneuvering. The strategy is not to extend deliberation of the Senate’s agenda but to prevent it.
  • Nothing dominates the life of a senator more than raising money. It sucks up time that a senator ought to be spending getting to know other senators, working on issues.
  • People know it in their heart—they know this place is dominated by special interests. The over-all bills are not nearly as bold because of the influence of money.
  • You don’t have a clue what’s on the floor, your staff is whispering in your ears, you’re running onto the floor, then you check with your leader … But, if you’re ever pressed, ‘Why did you vote that way?’—you just walk out thinking, Oh, my God, I hope nobody asks, because I don’t have a clue.”
  • “A lot of senators don’t understand the history or tradition of the institution. Substantive, thoughtful, moderate discussion is pushed aside.”
  • The Senate’s modern decline began in 1978, with the election of a new wave of anti-government conservatives, and accelerated as Republicans became the majority in 1981.
  • After C-SPAN went on the air, in 1979, the cozy atmosphere that encouraged both deliberation and back-room deals began to yield to transparency and, with it, posturing.
  • Rough parity between the two parties meant that every election had the potential to make or break a majority, crushing the incentive to coöperate across the aisle.
  • The Democratic class of 2008 arrived with President Obama, expecting to usher in a dynamic new era. Instead, their young Senate careers have passed in a daily slog of threatened filibusters and “secret holds”—when a senator anonymously objects to bringing an appointment up for a vote, which requires unanimous consent.
  • Seventy-six nominees for judgeships and executive posts have been approved by committees but, because of blocks, haven’t come up for a vote in the full Senate, leaving courtrooms idle and jobs unfilled across the upper levels of the Obama Administration.
  • In the current Senate, it has become normal for a handful of senators, sometimes representing just ten or twenty per cent of the country’s population, to hold everything up.

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