What’s wrong with the US Senate? A whole lot of things, writes former Senate staffer Ira Shapiro, who says “the current condition of the Senate constitutes a national emergency.” Our “empty chamber” needs a whole lot of changes, including new rules, new leadership, and actual bipartisan cooperation – which won’t happen until, as Shapiro puts it, “Senators choose to act like senators — exercising independent judgement to discern the national interest.”
It was not always like this. From Shapiro’s post at the NY Times:
The great Senate of the 1960s and 70s, which enacted the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, challenged the Vietnam War and held Richard Nixon accountable for Watergate, was almost a demilitarized zone where partisan politics was concerned. The Senate changed dramatically in the 1990s as the Republican party moved further to the right (from Ronald Reagan to Newt Gingrich), and adopted a strategy — implemented first by Republican leader Trent Lott — of making the Senate a much more partisan institution. Since that time, the Senate’s capacity for serious debate and bipartisan compromise crucial to effective legislation has eroded, with grave consequences. Restoring the Senate, if not to greatness, then at least to respectable effectiveness, is crucial.