Upside Down Congress (and that’s a good thing right now)

The standard American government textbook discussion of our bicameral federal legislature will often note that the Senate is the body that is more deliberative and that acts, like a saucer, to cool the more passionate House’s hot teacup.  Indeed, the Senate itself says this on its own website:

In selecting an appropriate visual symbol of the Senate in its founding period, one might consider an anchor, a fence, or a saucer. Writing to Thomas Jefferson, who had been out of the country during the Constitutional Convention, James Madison explained that the Constitution’s framers considered the Senate to be the great “anchor” of the government. To the framers themselves, Madison explained that the Senate would be a “necessary fence” against the “fickleness and passion” that tended to influence the attitudes of the general public and members of the House of Representatives. George Washington is said to have told Jefferson that the framers had created the Senate to “cool” House legislation just as a saucer was used to cool hot tea.

Recently, though, the Senate has been the body acting on the fickle political winds and intemperate passion (see John McCain’s behavior, for examples).  Fortunately, the House has taken on the role of being a “necessary fence” against rash actions (like a gun bill that if in place before Newtown would have done absolutely nothing to stop that tragedy) through its use of “regular order.”  This braking-device – and Republican use of it in the House – is explained in this nice piece by Robert Costa in National Review.  There, Costa notes that “‘Regular order’ allows House Republicans to dictate the pace of legislation and makes ‘grand bargains’ of any sort harder to pass.”  Of course, there have been some exceptions (such as Sandy Relief) even of late to regular order that prove why faster action isn’t necessarily going to produce better policy.  But it is a way to keep Boehner from selling out in hopes of some grand bargain or fleeting good press for the party.  So three cheers for slowing down the legislative process to cool the passion of the demos, the Senate, and the President.  But it certainly seems like the legislature is upside down.

One thought on “Upside Down Congress (and that’s a good thing right now)

  1. Speaking of, does anyone know a good book that lays out the history leading up to the 17th amendment?

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