The Death of Deliberation: Partisanship and Polarization in the United States Senate
A common observation of the Senate today is that it is paralyzed by gridlock; the Senate is currently composed of ideologically polarized members, and the majority and minority leaders exercise more influence because they lead more cohesive political parties. However, the argument that the Senate and by extension, the Congress, are undermined by rampant obstruction overlooks the fact that the contemporary Senate is still capable of overcoming the differences among its members without descending into an endless debate of ideological partisanship and irreconcilable gridlock. While current treatments of the Senate often seek to explain why gridlock happens, in this book, James Wallner addresses the important question of why gridlock does not happen. His answer is quite simple: The Senate changes the manner in which it makes decisions on a case-by-case basis in order to limit conflict between its members. Yet, the Senate’s ability to produce important legislation in the current environment may undermine the institution’s deliberative function. Wallner puts forth the unique proposition that while the contemporary Senate may indeed be broken, it is not broken in the sense typically acknowledged. Put simply, deliberation has succumbed to the Senate’s bipartisan determination to avoid gridlock and pass important legislation.
In this book, James I. Wallner provides a much-needed window into the modern Senate. . . .Wallner is a top Senate staffer and a political scientist. In the proud tradition of participant-observant research, Wallner combines institutional history, data, case studies, and personal experience with a theoretical framework for understanding the evolution of Senate decision making. . . .This book is valuable both for what it reveals and for the research it should provoke. (Political Science Quarterly)
The Death of Deliberation opens up future research opportunities for those interested in the interactions between the two chambers. . . .Professor Wallner provides the reader with a new way of looking at the Senate, and introduces an important nuance for those interested in researching the ‘broken Congress.’ (Taylor & Francis Online)
The Death of Deliberation is a significant contribution to our understanding of the contemporary Senate; it is provocative and well-argued and provides considerable empirical substantiation for a view counter to the conventional wisdom on the Senate. The author argues that, rather than being gridlocked, the contemporary Senate operates through a mode of decision making he calls structured consent that depends on cooperation between the party leaders; more controversially, he contends that “partisan cooperation or partisan agreement at the leadership level is the most significant characteristic of the contemporary Senate.” (Barbara Sinclair, professor of political science, University of California, Los Angeles)
In this perceptive study, Wallner grapples with the central question about the U.S. Senate today: how does a body with such permissive rules function under conditions of party polarization? Rather than rehash preexisting debates, he offers a new interpretation of the role and function of Senate leaders. In Wallner’s analysis, party leaders—including both the majority and minority party—play a managerial role behind the scenes, leading negotiations and moderating the conflict that always threatens to spiral out of control. Such leaders enable the Senate to function under extraordinarily difficult circumstances. The cost is that important deliberation no longer occurs in public view. Scholars, journalists, and interested citizens will all find much value in Wallner’s study. (Frances Lee, professor of government and politics, University of Maryland)
The U.S. Senate has evolved from “norm-based” through “collegial,” “majoritarian,” and “structured consent” modes of policymaking during the last half century. This immensely readable book tells that story. Its account is shrewd, surefooted, anchored in experience on Capitol Hill, and convincing. These days, the author argues, the problem isn’t really that nothing gets done, it is that the chamber’s processes of open deliberation have gotten ragged. (David R. Mayhew, Sterling Professor of political science, Yale University)
In a time of hyper-partisanship, some Senate-watchers have alleged that the institution is broken and cannot be repaired without changes to its fundamental character. In this probing and thoughtful analysis, James Wallner demonstrates that such conclusions are too simplistic, and why the Senate remains highly functional and true to the Framers’ purposes. Concerned citizens will benefit from his scholarship. (Martin B. Gold)