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Best quote about why Senate reform is needed

By Jonathan Bernstein

Just a quick follow-up on the last item about guidelines for reform.

From Harry Reid, as interviewed by the great Ezra Klein, about two months ago:

"In baseball," Reid said in a clipped tone, "they used to have the spitball. It originally was used with discretion. But then the ball got wetter and wetter and wetter. So soon, they outlawed the spitball." The same, he said, had happened to the four-corner offense in basketball. "And just the way the spitball was abused in baseball and the four-corner offense was abused in basketball," Reid said, "Republicans have abused the filibuster."

I think that's exactly right (although I'm pretty sure the historical analogy with the spitball is wrong, but it's fine in spirit). At one point, perhaps in the 1970s and 1980s, filibusters were frequent but not universal, and the rules and norms worked just fine. What's happened is that it turned out that the rule on the books doesn't actually do what people thought the rule on the books did, once the norms of how senators behaved changed. And once a loophole (an opportunity?) in the rules is exploited, there's little chance of going back to the status quo ante. So the real case for reforming the Senate rules is that it's necessary because the operations of the Senate -- the combination of rules and norms -- have radically changed over 20 years.

And then, on the other hand, the best quote about why reform doesn't happen easily, from Scott Lilly, writing for CAP:

Most rank-and-file senators will not willingly give up the extraordinary powers that the current system grants them. And their leaders would cease to be leaders if they demanded such reforms.

Lilly thinks the only hope is public outcry, but while I do think it might help a bit, I think it's mostly a pipe dream. The real hope is that senators find the collective frustrations of the current system an even bigger problem than the individual advantages it gives them -- and finding a set of reforms that will on balance reduce the frustrations without cutting too deep into individual influence.

And with that, I'll turn to some reform proposals.

-- Jonathan Bernstein blogs about American politics, political institutions and democracy at A Plain Blog About Politics, and you can follow him on Twitter here.

By Washington Post Editors  |  June 2, 2010; 1:54 PM ET
Categories:  Congress , Senate  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Guidelines for Senate reform
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You never hear Democrats whining about Senate reform when the rules are to their advantage.

It's only when they can't foist their radical socialist vision does this issues come up.


Posted by: WrongfulDeath | June 3, 2010 9:38 AM | Report abuse

Choosing the best umpires is a very important part of the game at the major league level. They are supposed to adhere to the rules as written, not make calls based on bias and emotion. If rule changes are needed, it’s up to the commissioner and the league, with input from the players to make those decisions.

And rumor has it that Reid is going to be sent back to the minors pretty soon. ;)

Posted by: daveag83sq15 | June 3, 2010 10:59 AM | Report abuse

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