Thursday, March 5

WHY THE SENATE HIDES BEHIND A RULE IT CAN CHANGE

George Kenney, LA Times - Once the Senate has a quorum, a majority vote on any issue carries the day, with five exceptions enumerated in the Constitution: impeachment, expulsion of members, veto overrides, confirmation of treaties and constitutional amendments. Otherwise, all that the Constitution tells the Senate is that it is free to make up its own rules.

However, the Senate has its reasons for keeping a supermajority requirement, and here are two they will say out loud: It preserves fellowship among the senators, and delayed legislation often results in improved legislation.

But there are other reasons -- perhaps more important to the Senate and not usually openly acknowledged: The senators like being insulated, when convenient, from the rough-and-tumble of national politics, and this rule helps spread the political risk on controversial decisions. They also see themselves as a sort of House of Lords -- elite rather than democratic.

But the question is whether Senate traditions and rules should be of greater importance than the welfare of the country. Absent a strong demand for change, however, the Senate is unlikely to drop Rule 22. Unfortunately, the public is unlikely to apply any pressure because it assumes the rule is an arcane detail specified in the Constitution.

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