Tuesday, December 07, 2010

"I think we have to blow up the place"

Sandy Levinson

So who said this, with regard to the United States Senate? The answer, some of you may be surprised to learn, is retiring Senator George Voinovich of Ohio. I, of course, regret his entirely intemperate language, and I assume that he has immediately been placed on a list that will bar him from flying to Washington. Still, what does it say about our current political situation that a relatively well-respected senator like Voinovich (he's far too conservative for my taste, but he's not been one of the Senate's mad dogs, a development he attributes, incidentally, to the increasing number of former House members who have come over to the Senate), that he can say this even in presumed jest? And, even more, what does it say that he describes himself as having been to behave like a "real Senator" only in the past two years, i.e., since he announced that he wasn't running for re-election? We don't need to "blow it up." Abolishing the Senate (or restricting its role to confirming ambassadors) would suffice.


Voino is unhappy because the Senate has become too much like the House, while you are unhappy that it is not exactly like the House (or that it exists at all). So it is hard to see how his comments help your case.

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"but he's not been one of the Senate's mad dogs, a development he attributes, incidentally, to the increasing number of former House members who have come over to the Senate"

Yeah, those Senators can get pretty snotty about how much better they are than the House. Reached something of a peak when the time came for the Clinton impeachment trial, and the Senators wouldn't let the House impeachment managers present their case before they voted, because it would be beneath the dignity of SENATORS to have to listen to a mere House member speak.

And, what Mis said. You want a Senate indistinguishable from the House, you want no lame ducks voting, why are you agreeing with him? Just because he's attacking the Senate, and that he's attacking it from the exact opposite perspective doesn't matter?

The message I took away from Dana Millbank's WaPo article is that a Senator planning to run for re-election has to focus too much on raising campaign funds and thus does not have the time to spend on matters of governance. This is not a new message. I have read about Senators over the years complaining about the time spent raising such funds.

mls and Brett got no bait on their hooks for Sandy to bite. Nice tries. If I may get personal, Voino's intemperate language applies to both houses of Congress. The distinction of the Senate is the 6 year term that could, with a good governance minded Senator [oxymoronic?], permit a Senator to focus not on campaign funding but what's good for America. But the expenses involved with a re-election campaign are so high that a Senator must plan to raise funds from day one of his/her term, even for a Senator with a relatively safe seat.

So let's address the funding of campaigns for elective office, a problem even before Citizens United (5-4). Let's blow up campaign financing.

I don't think Sandy is being inconsistent here. Both he and Voinovich see an inconsistency between the Senate's rules and the House's hyperpartisan behavioral norms (which are now also the behavioral norms of the Senate).

Each of them recognizes that we can't put the cap back on the bottle and revert to the old Senate behavioral norms.

George Voinovich's problem is that he is an executive (former mayor and governor) who does not much like legislative sausage making.

I think Voinovich's allusion insidiously similar to some of the testing-the-waters hype from the upper chamber's majority leader during difficult vote strategies when the Republicans were working on nominations like Miers, et al., for the supreme court. It also is reminiscent of prof. Balkin's recent abjurements concerning adoption by the grand old party recently of the Continental m.o. of parliamentarist rhetoric of immutability. Yet, here's to our Continental forebears, whose systems we adapted while prescinding from their worst pitfalls; like mythologizing about Bastille day, or Guy Fawkes day; it's a regional thing. I am not sure a plurality rule for cloture is the strongest way the Senate can replace its traditions; and am open to dialog.

With regard to the Otto von Bismarck attributed sausage/laws quotation, the NYTimes on 12/5/10 featured an article by Robert Pear titled "If Only Laws Were Like Sausages" pointing out that this is an insult to sausage makers who don't make mistakes with their end products as does Congress, citing several mistakes by Congress, and closing with this:

"Next year, the House side of the sausage factory opens under new management. But chances are sausage makers will still feel insulted."

Maybe Voino knows what good sausage should taste like. I expect the new House side to be a "sausage (ol)factory" based upon upcoming Speaker Bo(eh)ner's strutting for some b-b-qing.

Back to the kitchen to see if I have the ingredients for loukaniko Greek sausage.

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