ICYMI: Top reads on Congress

 Source:  Nation

Source: Nation

By Marian Currinder

 

Post-shutdown analysis/congressional dysfunction

Joshua Huder, “The Real Takeaway from the Shutdown: Congress is Broken,” Politico:

“The deeper issue is what this brief and soon-forgotten episode says about the broken legislative practices inside the halls of Congress. From immigration to health care, privacy to national security, there are bipartisan majorities on Capitol Hill willing to debate any number of important bills. The problem is they aren’t getting a say in what Congress debates. Congressional leaders care more about spin than deliberation. As a result, Congress has morphed from a democratic arena weighing important policy differences to a debate-stunted PR firm. This is not exactly new, but the 115th Congress is reaching new levels of dysfunction. And as long as leaders seek brinkmanship over debate, shutdowns will become only more common.”

Jonathan Bernstein, “A Stronger Congress is Something We All Should Want,” Bloomberg:

“At any rate, even if people wanted to revive Congress, it's not altogether clear how to go about doing it. As much as I suppose those who are pushing congressional capacity (see, for example, the fifth link below), partisan polarization didn't happen just by choice, and its causes can't be just wished away. Still, better to fight for a strong House, a strong Senate and a strong presidency than the opposite. And those of us who want to see a revived Congress can always hope that the basic structure of the Constitution will work in our, and Congress's, favor.” 

Peter Suderman, “The Shutdown Shows the Twisted Rules of a Broken Congress,” New York Times:

“This week’s government shutdown is a bipartisan failure, with bad faith all around, and both parties trying to blame the other for the consequences, in hopes of winning one for the team. But it is also a systemic failure, in which an outdated budget process – the complex set of procedures that keeps the government open – has become an empty ritual, twisted in the service of narrow partisan gain.”

Elaine Kamarck, “’President Chaos’ and a return to Congressional government,” Brookings:

“The end of the shutdown may be one of those inflection points in history. The Senate Majority Leader put his integrity on the line by promising a debate on the fate of DREAMers with a fair amendment process. Twenty-five members of the United States Senate began acting like competent legislators again as they engineered the end to the government shutdown—brought about primarily as a result of the president’s inability to lead. This begs a question: Are we entering a period in history, not unlike the period between the Civil War and the Great Depression, when presidents were relatively weak and Congress ran the show?”

Sarah Binder and Mark Spindel, “Four takeaways from the short-lived shutdownWashington Post:

“Others have done their partisan postmortems on shutdown winner and losers. Instead, we offer four takeaways about the polarized congressional dynamics that more often lead to short-term deals rather than substantive laws.”

Jonathan Bernstein, “The Shutdown Should Have Never Happened,” Bloomberg:

“In 1995-1996, the government shut down over whether to slash spending on a wide range of programs, as House Speaker Newt Gingrich and the new congressional majority Republicans wanted, or hold close to the status quo, as President Bill Clinton wanted. In 2013, the government shut down over whether or not to repeal the Affordable Care Act. In 2018, the government has shut down over whether to extend temporary spending authority until mid-February, as the Republicans want, or to pass an identical bill extending that authority for three days, as the Democrats want. Seriously?”

David Rogers, “The real reason for Congress’ shutdown fiasco,” Politico:

“The Republican-led government shutdown in 2013 was billed as a fight over Obamacare. The latest disruption was triggered by Democrats' demands on immigration.But l ost in the headlines is the fact that the biggest common driver in both crises was Washington’s inability to come to grips with what it promised in the Budget Control Act of 2011.”

Norm Ornstein, “The Real Cause of the Last Government Shutdown – and the Next One,” The Atlantic:

“The failure to enact any spending bills is a product of deep disagreements over spending and spending priorities among and between House and Senate Republicans, deeper disagreements between Republicans and Democrats, and the looming problem of the damaging across-the-board cuts called “sequesters” that came about because Congress could not agree on a deficit reduction plan in 2011—primarily because Republicans would not accept a balance that included tax increases along with the major changes they demanded in Social Security and Medicare.”

Paul Kane, “New normal in Congress is governing by deadline,” Washington Post:

“The three-day shutdown of the federal government may have had minimal impact on the public, but it served as the latest example of the modern governance-by-deadline dysfunction that has gripped Capitol Hill most of this decade.”

Francine Kiefer, “Shutdown saga sparks debate about how to fix ‘broken’ Congress,” Christian Science Monitor:

“Still, it remains a question whether the deliberately cumbersome system of checks and balances, designed by the Founding Fathers to forge compromise, can truly remain viable in today’s fast-paced, highly polarized environment.”

Timothy B. Lee, “Our constitutional system is broken and we should fix it,” Bottom Up:

“The basic issue is that the American system of checks and balances was designed for a nation without ideologically polarized parties. For most of the 20th century, there were genuinely liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats, and that meant there was room for the kind of compromise and horse-trading that’s required to make our system of government—with its many veto points—work. But now that the most conservative Democrat is more liberal than the most liberal Republican in both the House and the Senate, compromise has become more and more difficult.”

Larry Kramer, “Adapting our philanthropy in trying times,” Hewlett (see in particular section on fixing democratic dysfunction):

“Changes in Congress over the past thirty years have progressively limited the space available for representatives to give play to these sorts of influences. Members of Congress have been squeezed into partisan straightjackets that further neither their own reasons for entering public service nor the good of the country. And it gets worse after every election, as older members retire or are replaced. Today, scarcely anyone in Congress even remembers what it was like to work in a functioning body.”

Senate rules, procedures, and norms

Niels Lesniewski, “Frustrations with Senate Rules Near Boiling Point,” Roll Call:

“Republican senators are again talking up potential rule changes to make it easier for the chamber to move President Donald Trump’s nominations, as well as spending legislation. But the necessary GOP unity — much less broad bipartisan support — may prove elusive. Multiple senators said the question of what to do to get the Senate legislating again was one focus during the extended Friday-night vote, just before what turned out to be a three-day government shutdown.”

Carl Hulse, “Senators Race to Protect Immigrants, and Restore Their Institution,” New York Times:

“The bipartisan group of senators who intervened to help end the government shutdown now faces an even more formidable task: freeing the Senate – and perhaps Washington – from its dysfunctional rut. In sidestepping Senate leaders of both parties, members of the group have taken it upon themselves to not only quickly resolve an immigration dispute that has long defied answers, but also prove the Senate’s frozen legislative gears can still turn.”

Niels Lesniewski, “Organizing the Senate Can Sometimes Get Messy,” Roll Calll:

“Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer opted to take the path of least resistance and avoid infuriating current senators by simply adding extra Democrats to the Finance and Judiciary committees, with some ancillary reshuffling to improve the standing of some senators with more seniority. But the routine nature of doling out assignments, like much of the Senate’s business, can get complicated. Resolutions making committee assignments are open to debate.”

Louis Jacobson, “Could the nuclear option get rid of the filibuster entirely? Checking Trump’s tweet,” Politifact:

“Under longstanding Senate rules, it effectively takes at least 60 votes to proceed to a vote on a bill. That creates a high threshold for passing legislation in the chamber -- including the legislation to fund the government and end the shutdown. The Senate procedural action that would be used to get rid of the filibuster is called the "nuclear option." (The use of "nuclear" here is only metaphorical. No actual nuclear weapons are involved.) With Trump tweeting about ending the filibuster, we thought it would be a good time to review what the filibuster is and what would be at stake if it is eliminated.”

Ed Pesce, “Senate PSA: Be Nice or Get Rule 19’d,” Roll Call:

“The Senate prides itself on being the world’s greatest deliberative body, but that doesn’t mean one can say just anything. In fact, if you say something out of bounds, a colleague can invoke a rule that forces you to sit down and be quiet. This dynamic came into focus over the weekend. As shutdown tensions ran high, Rule 19 was pulled out for a fresh reading as a reminder about the chamber’s standards for decorum.”

Hugh Hewitt, “How to end the Senate’s astonishing dysfunction,” Washington Post:

“The point is that the Senate as an institution is — or was — quite the work of genius, but its individual members, no matter how famous in their day, fade into background characters in presidential biographies. (And most presidential biographies don’t really get read all that much.) Now the Senate itself is careening toward widespread contempt, as happened to its Roman predecessor even before the emperors turned it into a fancy advisory council.”

Wendy J. Schiller, “How the Senate Went off the Rails,” (book review) Washington Monthly:

“Is it possible that we ask too much of an institution that was constructed more than two centuries ago? It’s hard to believe that changing the internal rules of the Senate will improve our democracy without parallel changes in voter knowledge, easier access to voting, and some controls put on the use of money in politics. If anything, the modern Senate finds itself more embedded in the environment that drives national politics than ever in its history. Unless those outside forces are addressed, the Senate is unlikely to live up to its potential as a deliberative body anytime soon. But in Broken, Ira Shapiro makes a compelling and persuasive case that we should never stop demanding that it does.”

"Can the U.S. Senate be saved?” Brookings Event, Monday, February 5, 2018, 10:00 - 11:30 a.m.

Congressional staff

Kevin Collier, “Senate Quietly Admits It Doesn’t Protect Staffers Personal Email or Devices From Hacking,” Buzzfeed:

“The government agency responsible for policing the Senate’s cybersecurity doesn’t actually protect staffers’ personal devices or accounts, creating what one former congressional staffer called “a major threat vector” for foreign hackers.”

Stephanie Akin, “Critics Point to Problems With Sexual Harassment Bill,” Roll Call:

“A bipartisan measure meant to increase protections for congressional employees who complain of sexual harassment and other workplace discrimination could make the process more cumbersome and less transparent, experts on employment law and advocates for victims and government transparency said this week.”

Griffin Connolly, “Correspondence With Congressional Offices ‘Through The Roof,’” Roll Call:

“You’ll seldom see “absorbing the occasional F-bomb” on a Capitol Hill intern’s LinkedIn page under the “responsibilities” tab. Nor will you see “twirling the landline cord while a constituent takes off on a racist immigration rant. “It’s basic customer service, like you would have in any other industry,” one Democratic congressional staffer said of answering calls for lawmakers. But for the interns and staffers in member offices, these expletive-laced rants often cut deeper because the callers aren’t complaining about products: they’re complaining about lawmakers, their bosses.”