Just how broken is the U.S. Senate?

Important question.

George Packer asked in back in August, in an article he wrote for The New Yorker, “The Empty Chamber.”

Illustration of U.S. Senators for New Yorker, August 2010

Illustration from The New Yorker. Caption from the magazine: “Sit and watch us for seven days,” one senator says of the deadlocked chamber. “You know what you’ll see happening? Nothing.” (Is there any Republican portrayed in this illustration?)

It’s troubling to me that back in August Packer could note a list of subjects critical to our nation that the Senate had been blocked from considering, and even after a “record setting” lame-duck session, all but one of those issues remain untouched.

Packer wrote:

On July 21st, President Obama signed the completed bill. The two lasting achievements of this Senate, financial regulation and health care, required a year and a half of legislative warfare that nearly destroyed the body. They depended on a set of circumstances—a large majority of Democrats, a charismatic President with an electoral mandate, and a national crisis—that will not last long or be repeated anytime soon. Two days after financial reform became law, Harry Reid announced that the Senate would not take up comprehensive energy-reform legislation for the rest of the year. And so climate change joined immigration, job creation, food safety, pilot training, veterans’ care, campaign finance, transportation security, labor law, mine safety, wildfire management, and scores of executive and judicial appointments on the list of matters that the world’s greatest deliberative body is incapable of addressing. Already, you can feel the Senate slipping back into stagnant waters.

Read more http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2010/08/09/100809fa_fact_packer#ixzz19wpuFk4q

Only food safety got done, though a few judicial appointments squeaked through (less than two dozen).

5 Responses to Just how broken is the U.S. Senate?

  1. Richard Thomas says:

    Without pushing the point too far, there are aspects of the behaviour of Republicans in the Senate which look remarkably like that of elements of the Polish aristocracy in the years up to partition and the elimination of Poland as an inependent state. The use of the librum veto to nullify all business was the root cause of the weakness of Poland and its consequent vulnerability to the predators of Prussia, Russia and Austria. Look for example at the cynical negativity and the use of the filibuster to prevent the most elementary measures such as judicial nominations passing and you can see the analogy.


  2. Nick K says:

    James wrote:

    What I think does signal brokenness is the number of policies that the Republicans themselves previously supported but now turned against in order to deny the President wins. Chief among these was the Dream Act, authored by Orrin Hatch, which even he then failed to vote for. When they are working so desperately to block even their own preferred policy goals, that’s broken.

    Or how a significant portion of so called “Obamacare” is things that the Republicans were supporting a year, five years, 10 years, and 15 years ago.

    And while the “conservatives” love to decry socialism…they sure as hell are following Marx’s prediction for what would happen for a true socialist society to be established.


  3. James Hanley says:

    I think Packer misses the point, to some extent. In part, he seems to be saying the Senate us broken because a particular “set of good policies” did not get passed. I would remind that no matter how clearly and inarguably good these policies might seem to one set of people, they seem clearly and inarguably bad to another set, and for them to fight for the things they believe in–however misguided you, I, or anyone else might think they are–is not a signal of brokenness. It’s common for people to call the process broken when they don’t accomplish their goals, but that’s a bad measure of brokenness.

    What I think does signal brokenness is the number of policies that the Republicans themselves previously supported but now turned against in order to deny the President wins. Chief among these was the Dream Act, authored by Orrin Hatch, which even he then failed to vote for. When they are working so desperately to block even their own preferred policy goals, that’s broken.


  4. Jim says:

    And my apologies. The Cockburn quote should replace the word “best”, with “beast”. A typo. — Jim

    [Fixed – The Management]


  5. Jim says:

    Carl Levin’s remark that the obstructionism has become “mindless” is understandable on an emotive level, but inaccurate. There most assuredly IS a mind behind the obstructionism.

    The Republicans believe (nearly to a man and woman) that doing less will destroy the government. It’s what the Reagan-era knuckleheads called “starving the beast”. The less government does, they reason, the more likely government itself will simply collapse, implode or disappear from the scene entirely.

    To them, this is actually desireable. This is, my friends, Anarcho-Libertarianism. And it’s goal is to destroy any function of government that does not serve the plutocracy.

    That’s not mindless. It’s quite mindful, indeed. Evil and selfish, to be sure. But not mindless.

    When moderate and liberal Republicans existed, I would cheerfully join them in saying — “My far left liberal friends drastically overstate the situation when they wring their hands about oligarchy, plutocracy and the oppression of the working class.” I think, for many years, that was precisely true. Why? Because liberal and conservative Democrats, along with moderate and liberal Republicans, basically agreed that government served a purpose and must do the work of “promoting the general welfare”. They might quibble over amounts to spend, timetables or specific programs and projects. But they affirmed and embraced the vision laid out in the Preamble to the Constitution.

    “So,” I would opine, “I may be a lefty, but you won’t catch me kvetching about the systematic oppression of the working classes. That’s just over the top, Marxist mumbo jumbo.” And I think I was right. At the time.

    Sadly, however, there are no liberal Republicans. The moderate Republicans still holding office in both chambers can be counted (quite literally) on one hand. And of them, none have had the courage to stand up to their party on a steady stream of issues. At best, they might break ranks once per session. Big deal.

    So what have we now? We have what Bill Moyer’s aptly names a plutocracy. It’s purpose is to insure the fabulously rich remain so; to guarantee that industry and corporate structures are totally free from bothersome (though often life-saving) regulations; and to perpetuate a bloated military-industrial complex.

    This is not because plutocrats hate the poor. It is usually not because they are racist or elitist. Some of them — perhaps a great many — may, indeed, be those things. But these emotions and attitudes do not animate their “let them eat cake” world view. It’s much simpler than that. They are this way because to be any other way would require some level of sacrifice, sharing, and even humility. It would also require an acknowledgement of the basic foundation of American society laid out in the Preamble…something Libertarians, Anarchists and their conservative Republican sychophants find wholly distateful. If they could rewrite it, it would say…

    “I the rugged indvidual, in order to form a loose and largely unaccountable confederation of lone rangers, establish justice and ensure domestic tranquility for myself and those like me; provide for the defense of my wealth and way of life, promote the welfare of the individual and ensure the blessings of liberty to myself and my posterity…”

    This is their creed. Put in religious terms, it would decisively replace Jesus of Nazareth with Ayn Rand, who regarded Jesus as a sucker and a rube.

    They have won, ladies and gentlemen. The plutocrats now control the House, the Supreme Court and — effectively — the Senate and White House. They control most state legislatures, too.

    The original article asks, “Is the Senate broken?” My God, no! It’s working perfectly. Exactly as the Koch brothers, Dick Cheney, The Decider, John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, bankers, insurance industry executives, the military-industrial complex and the corporate masters who own most media wish it to work. That is, hardly at all. And never for the benefit of anyone who is poor or middle class.

    Bruce Cockburn said it best, “One day you’re going to rise from your habitual feast, to find yourself staring down the throat of the beast they call ‘the revolution'”.

    I fear, not only for the poor and middle class. I fear for the plutocrats. While I may never live to see it, experiments in greed like theirs don’t usually end well.


Please play nice in the Bathtub -- splash no soap in anyone's eyes. While your e-mail will not show with comments, note that it is our policy not to allow false e-mail addresses. Comments with non-working e-mail addresses may be deleted.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: