Government shutdowns are the dysfunction of new Senate norm
The Senate considered a single bill for weeks at a time, with debate and amendments continuing without constraint. In his book, The Death of Deliberation, Dr. James Wallner links the use of this open-ended process with successful passage of controversial legislation.
Specifically examining the passage of 21 bills in the 102nd Congress (1991-92), Wallner notes that the Senate routinely considered up to 75 percent of the amendments filed to these particular bills. Notably, he identifies nine cases where the minority party had more amendments considered than the majority.
The result? The cloture process was only needed to end debate on one out of 21 bills. In other words, there were no filibusters, so achieving 60 votes was not required. A majority of senators, having had their amendments considered and their views heard, decided to move forward at a majority threshold.
This open, consensus driven process is unheard of in today’s Senate, where cloture (60 votes) is required at nearly every point of legislative consideration.
By nearly every metric, today’s Senate might as well be on another planet from its predecessors. While many differences exist between the modern and recently historical Senate, there are two that stand out.
First, the modern Senate fails to deliberate. Wallner’s portrait of the active, transparent and collegial Senate of the early 1990s could not be more different than today, where an open legislative process is virtually unheard of.