The filibuster has achieved almost mythic proportions in the history of American politics, but it has escaped a careful, critical assessment for more than 50 years. In this book, Sarah Binder and Steven Smith provide such an assessment as they address the problems and conventional wisdom associated with the Senate's long-standing tradition of extended debate.
The authors examine the evolution of the rules governing Senate debate, analyze the consequences of these rules, and evaluate reform proposals. They argue that in an era of unprecedented filibustering and related obstructionism, old habits are indeed undermining the Senate's ability to meet its responsibilities. Binder and Smith scrutinize conventional wisdom about the filibuster—and show that very little of it is true. They focus on five major myths: that unlimited debate is a fundamental right to differentiate the Senate from the House of Representatives; that the Senate's tradition as a deliberative body requires unlimited debate; that the filibuster is reserved for a few issues of the utmost national importance; that few measures are actually killed by the filibuster; and that senators resist changing the rules because of a principled commitment to deliberation. In revising conventional wisdom about the filibuster, Binder and Smith contribute to ongoing debates about the dynamics of institutional change in the American political system. The authors conclude by suggesting reforms intended to enhance the power of determined majorities while preserving the rights of chamber minorities. They advocate, for example, lowering the number of votes required to end debate while increasing the amount of time for senators to debate controversial bills. Reform is possible, they suggest, that is consistent with the Senate's unique size and responsibilities.
Sarah Binder is a senior fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution and an associate professor of political science at George Washington University. Her previous books include Minority Rights, Majority Rule: Partisanship and the Development of Congress (Cambridge University Press, 1997). Steven S. Smith is the director of the Weidenbaum Center on the Economy, Government, and Public Policy at Washington University in St. Louis. He is the author of several books on congressional politics, including The American Congress (Houghton Mifflin, 1995) and Call to Order: Floor Politics in the House and Senate (Brookings, 1989).
Like the Senate itself, Smith’s account is grounded in history. Countering a cacophony of inexpert opinion and a widespread misunderstanding of political and legislative history, the book fills in a world of missing information—about debates among senators concerning fundamental democratic processes and the workings of institutional rules, procedures, and norms. And Smith does so in a clear and engaging manner. He puts the present problems of the Senate—the “Senate syndrome,” as he calls them—into historical context by explaining how particular ideas and procedures were first framed and how they transformed with the times. Along the way he debunks a number of myths about the Senate, many perpetuated by senators themselves, and makes some pointed observations about the media’s coverage of Congress.
The Senate Syndrome goes beyond explaining such seeming technicalities as the difference between regular filibusters and post-cloture filibusters, the importance of chair rulings, the changing role of the parliamentarian, and the debate over whether appeals of points of order should be subject to cloture margins, to show why understanding them matters. At stake is resolution of the Senate syndrome, and the critical underlying struggle between majority rule and minority rights in American policy making.
While the second edition focused on the "post-reform" committee systems, addressed the shifts in the internal distribution of power, and hinted at the forces that had already begun to undermine the power of committees, this edition updates that analysis and looks at the reforms that evolvied under the Republicans. It offers complete coverage of the rules and structural changes to the House and Senate committee systems. It extends its discussion of committee power and influence in the context of the "Contract with America," Republican reforms, and the inter-party warfare on Capitol Hill.
Smith and Remington challenge in particular the notion, derived from American contexts, that politicians pursue a single, overarching goal in the creation of institutions. They argue that politicians have multiple political goals--career, policy, and partisan--that drive their choices. Among Duma members, the authors detect many cross currents of interests, generated by the mixed electoral system, which combines both single-member districts and proportional representation, and by sharp policy divisions and an emerging party system. Elected officials may shift from concentrating on one goal to emphasizing another, but political contexts can help determine their behavior. This book brings a fresh perspective to numerous theories by incorporating first-hand accounts of major institutional choices and placing developments in their actual context.
Judicial selection has been contentious at numerous junctures in American history, but seldom has it seemed more acrimonious and dysfunctional than in recent years. Fewer than half of recent appellate court nominees have been confirmed, and at times over the past few years, over ten percent of the federal bench has sat vacant. Many nominations linger in the Senate for months, even years. All the while, the judiciary's caseload grows. Advice and Dissent explores the state of the nation's federal judicial selection system—a process beset by deepening partisan polarization, obstructionism, and deterioration of the practice of advice and consent.
Focusing on the selection of judges for the U.S. Courts of Appeals and the U.S. District Courts, the true workhorses of the federal bench, Sarah A. Binder and Forrest Maltzman reconstruct the history and contemporary practice of advice and consent. They identify the political and institutional causes of conflict over judicial selection over the past sixty years, as well as the consequences of such battles over court appointments. Advice and Dissent offers proposals for reforming the institutions of judicial selection, advocating pragmatic reforms that seek to harness the incentives of presidents and senators together. How well lawmakers confront the breakdown in advice and consent will have lasting consequences for the institutional capacity of the U.S. Senate and for the performance of the federal bench.