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A long time ago, we used to be friends

Al Franken is onto something here. I think the left would calm quite a bit if they could be assured that Sen. Joe Lieberman would never be extended another extra minute, or any other sort of senatorial courtesy, again.

After Franken denies Lieberman his extra time, John McCain gets up to bluster that he has never seen such an outrage before, and such behavior imperils the comity that keeps the United States Senate running so smoothly. One can only hope.

The interpersonal comity among the senators has come to distract people from the structural animosity between the parties. Chuck Grassley and Max Baucus might like each other, but at the end of the day, they can't vote together, at least not when anyone is actually watching.
If the Senate really had to face that the era of bipartisan cooperation has ended, maybe they'd change the rules to reflect an era in which senators of different parties can be friends, but not reliable allies.

As it is, they all like each other, and they enter into good-faith negotiations together, and then everyone is surprised when they can't actually get anything done. That's a bummer for the senators, I'm sure, but it's a problem for the country.

By Ezra Klein  |  December 18, 2009; 10:29 AM ET
Categories:  Senate  
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Comments

10 minutes means 10 minutes John. Frankly, I think Al should have a coach's whistle; nothing wrong with trying to promote a little hustle.

Posted by: ThomasEN | December 18, 2009 10:54 AM | Report abuse

It ain't the world's greatest mass debating body for no reason.

Posted by: pseudonymousinnc | December 18, 2009 11:00 AM | Report abuse

I believe the corruption of the legislative process in the senate goes deeper than the downside of comity. You've touched on it before, and I mentioned it a few weeks ago. The senate today functions in exactly the way many, perhaps most of today's senators WANT it to. The polarization and skyrocketing use of cloture votes preserves their power, which to them comes from being a "U.S. Senator," not from being a public servant. It preserves their prerogatives, which to them are simply their personal due, not a set of institutional tools to wield for the common good.

The senate has nearly outlived its usefulness. Along with the other good reform ideas we've debated recently, I think we need to debate a Constitutional amendment reducing the senate term to four years.

Posted by: andrewlong | December 18, 2009 11:00 AM | Report abuse

Good point Ezra. Another one: McCain offers a wonderful illustration of a fulminating politician who is full of it. As numerous commentators have mentioned, Senator Carl Levin immediately followed McCain by pointing out that a denial of extra time had happened that very day, only hours before. Leaving aside the question of McCain's short-term memory, his blustering, emotional tirade was based on a fiction, a convenient lie...not just of senatorial comity as you mention, but of the very "fact" that he'd never seen that behavior when in fact it happens all the time. Why don't Democrats like Franken and Levin just tell these Republican crybabies what they are--whiners who who make stuff up as they go along. If your opponents are going to obstruct every chance they get, lie about "death panels" and everything else under the sun, why maintain the fiction that these are honorable colleagues?

Posted by: opal22 | December 18, 2009 11:02 AM | Report abuse

urgent message to liberal columnists and bloggers: word: senate itself is a problem for democracy. This is the idea of the day, as "hostage" was of yesterday. E J Dionne and Klein have already gotten the message and included a swipe at the senate in his appearance on Rehm show, and in a blog, respectively. Guys at Kos -- you gotta go along with all the changes and support them as Klein does, or you will not bring your dates to our Christmas party, and will be stuck at some dreary Marriot in the burbs.

Posted by: truck1 | December 18, 2009 11:02 AM | Report abuse

Senator Franken, American hero. It's a small victory, but still a meaningful one. This is why a shakeup in the Senate is a good thing once in a while--they're there to vote on things that matter, not just shake hands and retire for a round of golf.

Posted by: csdiego | December 18, 2009 11:06 AM | Report abuse

I think that McCain's use of the word "comity" may have been his attempt at comedy.

In any case, I would be more than happy to dispense with any hint of civility to get a Congress that works, you know, one without a Senate.

I fully endorse Senator Franken's stop to Joe's clap-trap.

Posted by: bcbulger | December 18, 2009 11:15 AM | Report abuse

"The polarization and skyrocketing use of cloture votes preserves their power"

No, it doesn't.
As we've seen they're pretty totally impotent.

Posted by: adamiani | December 18, 2009 11:24 AM | Report abuse

Yeah - "comity" v. "comedy." It's not clear that this isn't just a spelling error.

Posted by: brucds | December 18, 2009 11:25 AM | Report abuse

"... Joe Lieberman would never be extended ... any other sort of senatorial courtesy, again."

And this is precisely what I don't understand. Why don't the Democrats make clear that his proposed legislation, amendments, earmarks, etc. will never again be successful unless he plays ball? A huge majority and yet all they do is whine and wring their hands and feel sorry for themselves. Pathetic.

Posted by: ostap666 | December 18, 2009 11:39 AM | Report abuse

Now I'm going to have the VM theme stuck in my head all day. Thanks.

Posted by: roquelaure_79 | December 18, 2009 11:46 AM | Report abuse

I've never understood why the stonewalling, obstructive behavior of Senators does not provoke this sort of thing that Franken did on a regular basis: the ability to engage in the most basic of tasks in the senate depends on the "unanimous consent" of the senate to move along. If I got tired of dealing with Coburn's antics, then I'd simply object every time he wanted to do something, until he was stymied.

But it's like they're more concerned with being friends than getting anything done. The Senate needs a bit more reality-television-inspired members willing to say, "I didn't come here to make friends."

Posted by: constans | December 18, 2009 11:46 AM | Report abuse

I don't think mccain's "outrage" is anything other than republican's standard practice of working the refs. It's done to support the "Democrats are meanies" whine that they ramp up should Dems actually try and wield power. It's like being "outraged" that they weren't properly included in the HCR "debate". It's a joke, but it works with many the villagers (yes Broder, I'm looking at you).

Posted by: CaffinatedOne | December 18, 2009 11:50 AM | Report abuse

adamiani: yes it does. It preserves their individual power, which they have come to value above their institutional power.

Posted by: andrewlong | December 18, 2009 12:05 PM | Report abuse

While Senator McCain is taking umbrage, perhaps he can devote just a few minutes of his time to being upset over the effect on Senate comity of the Infinite Filibuster.

Posted by: pj_camp | December 18, 2009 12:31 PM | Report abuse

Franken is most certainly onto something. Allowing Lieberman to retain his committee chairmanship after actively campaigning for John McCain and adopting the GOP line (and associated nasty rhetoric) spoke volumes to the surprising depth of spinelessness among legislative Democrats. Were it not one of dozens of similar examples of capitulation, it might have been forgiven.

P.S. thanks for the reminder to put Dandy Warhols back on the ipod, Ezra.

Posted by: BigTunaTim | December 18, 2009 12:31 PM | Report abuse

I find it hard to believe that anyone likes Joe Lieberman. Maybe old Joe, but new Joe is petty and vindictive and unreliable. He'll lie to you at the drop of a hat if he thinks it will advance his revenge agenda. It is hard to believe anyone finds that personality appealing.

Posted by: pj_camp | December 18, 2009 12:33 PM | Report abuse

I am so glad that Franken won that election. We need more comedians in the Senate.

Posted by: zosima | December 18, 2009 1:22 PM | Report abuse

P'shaw.

Posted by: rmgregory | December 18, 2009 2:06 PM | Report abuse

Go Franken! Keep the nonsensical, repetitive, bull --, er disinformation, down to a minimum. I salute any effort in that regard ... on both sides of the aisle.

Posted by: onewing1 | December 18, 2009 3:16 PM | Report abuse

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