A Lot of the Senate’s Time is Spent Doing Nothing

As I’ve written previously, the United States Senate doesn’t work anymore (see the most recent post besides this, or the old blog). This is due in large part to the adoption of the scorched-earth politicking of the minority parties of recent, which includes, but is not limited to, rampant use of the filibuster. As seen in the above graph by Ezra Klein, which shows the number of attempts to invoke cloture, the use of the filibuster has exploded. It bears noting that this doesn’t account for the countless times a filibuster is merely threatened, de facto killing the item; or the times a motion for cloture isn’t even filed because the majority leader knows there aren’t enough votes to break the filibuster. Meaning it’s even worse than what the graph shows, if that’s believable.

The Washington Post’s David A. Fahrenthold reports that the 112th Congress has of course picked right back up where the 111th left off—again it’s specifically the Senate that’s behind this. However, this time, it’s even less than the most meaningless and obstructive of filibustering that’s getting accomplished.

In the U.S. Senate, this is what nothing sounds like.

“Mr. Akaka.”

At 9:36 a.m. on Thursday, a clerk with a practiced monotone read aloud the name of Sen. Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii). The chamber was nearly deserted. The senator wasn’t there. Not that she was really looking for him.

Instead, the clerk was beginning one of the Capitol’s most arcane rituals: the slow-motion roll calls that the Senate uses to bide time.

These procedures, called “quorum calls,” usually serve no other purpose than to fill up empty minutes on the Senate floor. They are so boring, so quiet that C-SPAN adds in classical music: otherwise, viewers might think their TV was broken.

This year — even as Washington lurches closer to a debt crisis — the Senate has spent a historic amount of time performing this time-killing ritual. Quorum calls have taken up about a third of its time since January, according to C-SPAN statistics: more than 17 eight-hour days’ worth of dead air.

You can’t really blame these guys, though. OK, yes, you definitely can. But not in that way. There’s no reason to be there or do anything when it’s impossible to get anything accomplished. The Democratic majority has no reason to bring up legislation, or try to confirm Presidential nominees, or do anything that requires more than 53 votes for that matter (that’s effectively everything, by the way!), when whatever action will almost certainly be ground into the dirt. The Senate has evolved from beyond being a place where all things go to die into a place where all things are teleported back in time and never born.

As for C-SPAN, they have a conundrum on their hands:

[…] C-SPAN worries that its library of classical background music has been over-used. It is trying to expand its options, within a set of strict conditions: The music must be “calm and benign.” No cannon-booming “1812 Overture.” No funeral marches.

And it must not imply any comment on the nothingness happening onscreen.

Let’s ignore that last restriction, since the fact that music they’re playing music comments negatively on the nothingness happening onscreen by default. I suggest Strauss’ Metamorphosen; it’s fairly calm and benign, depending on how you approach it. More importantly, though, it mourns the ruin of another neo-classical building of prominence.


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