It has at times been downright infuriating to watch how the federal government has "functioned" this past year. And there is no better example of a dysfunctional government branch than the U.S. Senate, a supposedly collegiate body whose members are acting more like frat boys. This is not to say the majority should jam every piece of legislation through without deliberation by both parties. But it's the simple procedures -- such as judicial appointments that have been stalled for 18 months -- that should not be held up by the anonymous dissent of a single senator. The New Yorker magazine published a lengthy story on the senate that is a must-read for anyone, regardless of their political leanings. It is quite long, but it will leave you baffled at how Senate procedures have been twisted into a pretzel.
THE EMPTY CHAMBER
By George Packer
Aug. 9, 2010
This is just one of those days when you want to throw up your hands and say, ‘What in the world are we doing?’” Senator Claire McCaskill, the Missouri Democrat, said.
“It’s unconscionable,” Carl Levin, the senior Democratic senator from Michigan, said. “The obstructionism has become mindless.”
The Senators were in the Capitol, sunk into armchairs before the marble fireplace in the press lounge, which is directly behind the Senate chamber. It was four-thirty on a Wednesday afternoon. McCaskill, in a matching maroon jacket and top, looked exasperated; Levin glowered over his spectacles.
“Also, it’s a dumb rule in itself,” McCaskill said. “It’s time we started looking at some of these rules.”
She was referring to Senate Rule XXVI, Paragraph 5, which requires unanimous consent for committees and subcommittees to hold hearings after two in the afternoon while the Senate is in session. Both Levin and McCaskill had scheduled hearings that day for two-thirty. Typically, it wouldn’t be difficult to get colleagues to waive the rule; a general and an admiral had flown halfway around the world to appear before Levin’s Armed Services Committee, and McCaskill’s Subcommittee on Contracting Oversight of the Homeland Security Committee was investigating the training of Afghan police. But this was March 24th, the day after President Barack Obama signed the health-care-reform bill, in a victory ceremony at the White House; it was also the day that the Senate was to vote on a reconciliation bill for health-care reform, approved by the House three nights earlier, which would retroactively remove the new law’s most embarrassing sweetheart deals and complete the yearlong process of passing universal health care. Republicans, who had fought the bill as a bloc, were in no mood to make things easy.
So, four hours earlier, when Levin went to the Senate floor and asked for consent to hold his hearing, Senator Richard Burr, Republican of North Carolina, and a member of Levin’s committee, had refused. “I have no personal objection to continuing,” Burr said. But, he added, “There is objection on our side of the aisle. Therefore, I would have to object.”
Click here to read the entire story.
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