Mark Calabria

Perhaps I’m a little sensitive from having spent 7 years working in the Senate (rather than just using the Senate as a stepping stone), but when Obama makes statements in his State of the Union like:

Some of what’s broken has to do with the way Congress does its business these days. A simple majority is no longer enough to get anything – even routine business – passed through the Senate. Neither party has been blameless in these tactics. Now both parties should put an end to it. For starters, I ask the Senate to pass a rule that all judicial and public service nominations receive a simple up or down vote within 90 days.

I have to wonder if he even has the slightest clue what he is talking about.  First, what’s with the “no longer”, the fact is that the Senate has operated under super-majority rules since before Obama was born.  The vast majority of bills and nominations pass by unanimous consent, meaning that 100 votes are needed.  As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, 95% of the nominations sent to the Senate in 2011 were confirmed.

And the rules aren’t to blame for “routine business” not getting done.  It’s been over 1000 days since Senate Democrats passed a budget, but then you have to assemble one to pass one.  In 2011 the Senate passed over 400 pieces of legislation, only about 20% below the average of the last 20 years.  As someone who’d like to see government come to a halt, let me assure you, this isn’t it.

Setting aside the offensive nature of a President suggesting changes in the Senate rules (ever hear of the separation of powers?) the fact is that his proposal wouldn’t have mattered in the case of his recent “recess” nominations.  First, Cordray was given a vote, with a required 60 for moving to consideration.  He didn’t get 60.  There’s nothing in the Constitution that defines Senate “consent” as a simple majority.  Obama’s unconstitutional NRLB nominations weren’t even in the Senate for 90 days (his apparent standard).

Our founding fathers purposely created a system that made it hard, not easy, to legislate.  The very existence of both a House and Senate is evidence they rejected simple majority rules for legislating.  One of the many things I learned from working in the Senate, and having spent more time on the Senate floor than Obama, is that dealing in good faith can almost always get you to an broad agreement.  If Obama feels his legislative agenda has come to a halt, he has himself to blame, not the Senate rules.


Mark Calabria

Mark A. Calabria, is director of financial regulation studies at the Cato Institute.
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