The obstinacy of Mitch McConnell
James Wallner, a senior fellow at the R Street Institute in Washington and a former Republican Senate staffer, gave me a history lesson yesterday about Senate procedure, and I think it’s an important one. The practice of yielding to the majority leader began in the late 1940s, Wallner explains. Lyndon Johnson took it to a new level as the Senate majority leader in the 1950s, persuading even committee chairmen from not putting bills forward for a vote.
Senators have kept up the practice because it helps keep their party unified, rather than enduring votes that divide it. But this centralization of Senate power has an enormous downside. It makes bipartisan compromise harder to achieve. Coalitions that could pass a bill — but that don’t include the majority leader — don’t get the chance to form. As Wallner says, the practice makes our political system less freewheeling and open. “By stopping the legislative process before it starts,” he told me, “it makes compromise harder.”