In his 2005 book, “The Most Exclusive Club: A History of the Modern United States Senate”, Lewis L. Gould began by noting that the Senate was intended “to provide a legislative check against the potential tyranny of unrestrained majority rule.”
“The Framers of the Constitution envisioned a Senate that would function as a wide and judicious check on both executive power and the House of Representatives. They did not imagine a body that would act as a rubber stamp for an incumbent president. Nor would they have been pleased to see the Senate so focused on allocating federal appropriations to contributors and constituents.”
By 2005, Gould had concluded that “the Senate had become more often an impediment to democratic government rather than a place to express sober second thought on national priorities.”
Nearly a decade ago, he concluded that “A profound sense of crisis now surrounds the Senate and its members. Critics allege that it is an undemocratic place where the national interest received only fitful attention.”
On January 8th I happened to watch CSPAN as the Senate Republican Leader, Mitch McConnell, addressed the problems that were worse than even when Gould was writing about the Senate. The subject of his address to fellow Senators was “Restoring the Senate” and it received little or no media coverage.
Rule changes instituted by Majority Leader, Harry Reid, had turned the Democrat-controlled Senate into the rubber stamp the Framers had feared. It was Reid and then-Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, who had pushed the Affordable Care Act—Obamacare—through both houses in 2009; a 2,000-plus-page bill that was famously voted upon by Senators who had not even had time to read it, let along take the time to debate it. By 2010, voters returned control of the House to the Republican Party.
Obamacare had given rise to the Tea Party movement and the growing numbers of independent voters in the 2014 midterms will likely return power in the Senate along with voters unhappy with Obamacare and the President’s preference to rule by executive orders to bypass Congress. These days, in addition to Obamacare, the Tea Party movement is devoted to ensuring that the Constitution is not ignored.
McConnell, addressing the members of the Senate, said, “even if you’re completely at peace about what happened in November, even if you think it was perfectly fine to violate the all-important rule that says changing the rules requires the assent of two-thirds of Senators duly-elected and sworn, none of us should be happy about the trajectory the Senate was on even before that day or the condition we find it in 225 years after it was created.”
Kimberley A. Strassel, a columnist for The Wall Street Journal, was much freer to address the problem. In a Jan 14 column, she wrote “The popular judgment that Washington’s dysfunction is the result of ‘partisanship’ misses the crucial point. Washington is currently gridlocked because of the particular partisanship of one man: Senate Majority leader Harry Read. And Republicans are warming to the power of making that case to voters.”
Noting that the 113th Congress is often called the least productive in history, Strassel pointed out that “The Republican House in fact passed more than 200 bills in 2013.