A common observation of the Senate today is that it is paralyzed by gridlock; the Senate is currently composed of ideologically polarized members, and the majority and minority leaders exercise more influence because they lead more cohesive political parties. However, the argument that the Senate and by extension, the Congress, are undermined by rampant obstruction overlooks the fact that the contemporary Senate is still capable of overcoming the differences among its members without descending into an endless debate of ideological partisanship and irreconcilable gridlock. While current treatments of the Senate often seek to explain why gridlock happens, in this book, James Wallner addresses the important question of why gridlock does not happen. His answer is quite simple: The Senate changes the manner in which it makes decisions on a case-by-case basis in order to limit conflict between its members. Yet, the Senate’s ability to produce important legislation in the current environment may undermine the institution’s deliberative function. Wallner puts forth the unique proposition that while the contemporary Senate may indeed be broken, it is not broken in the sense typically acknowledged. Put simply, deliberation has succumbed to the Senate’s bipartisan determination to avoid gridlock and pass important legislation.
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About the Author
James Wallner is the executive director of the Senate Steering Committee; prior to this, he served as Legislative Director to two U.S. senators. He is also adjunct professor in the department of politics and the Congressional and Presidential Studies Program at the Catholic University of America.
Table of Contents
A Broken Senate?
A Different Interpretation of Gridlock
Patterns of Decision-Making
Outline of the Book
2.A New Theory of Senate Decision-Making
Measuring Decision-Making: A Note on Procedure
3.Decentralized Patterns of Decision-Making
Senate Norms and Patterned Behavior
Party Leaders in the Norm-Based Pattern
Participation and Patterned Behavior
Party Leaders in the Collegial Pattern
4.Centralized Patterns of Senate Decision-Making
Strong Party Leadership
Partisanship and Patterned Behavior
Party Leaders in the Majoritarian Pattern
Bipartisanship and Patterned Behavior
Party Leaders in the Structured Consent Pattern
5.Passing Controversial Legislation in the Senate
Health Care Reform
Decision-Making in the 102nd Congress
Decision-Making in the 108th Congress
Decision-Making in the 110th Congress
Decision-Making in the 111th Congress
6.Raising the Federal Debt Ceiling
A Polarized Political Environment
The Debt Ceiling Debate
Structured Consent: Advantages and Limitations
7.The Death of Deliberation?