The US Senate as an institution is sick and dysfunctional. Senator Ben Sasse, playing the role of physician, provides both an accurate diagnosis and recommended cures. But I fear that the Senate will prefer to remain sick.
His first recommendation is to “cut the cameras” since most of what happens in committee hearings “isn’t oversight, its showmanship.” Senators give speeches that are chopped up and shipped to the local media. The senators aren’t trying to learn since they are actually competing for sound bites.
Senator Sasse also wants to abolish standing committees. The current structure ends up being “20 permanent fiefdoms.” Instead, he proposes temporary two-year committees devoted to making real progress.
His third recommendation is to “pack the floor.” Serious debate, he argues, only happens when senators show up. Most of the time when you see a senator talking on the floor, he or she is speaking to a nearly empty chamber. Changing the rules to allow committees to control some floor time would bring senators to the floor to debate.
Senator Sasse also calls for Congress to “make a real budget.” This certainly is a criticism of the House of Representatives where revenue bills are to begin. Both houses of Congress have budget responsibilities, but “the budget process is completely broken.”
He also believes we should “repeal the 17th Amendment.” Ratified in 1913, this replaced the appointment of senators by state legislatures with direct election. The Senate was supposed to be less influenced by election and more responsible to the states. Although it is unlikely that this recommendation will ever be implemented, doing so would likely transform the US Senate back into the deliberative body that it was supposed to be.
The US Senate should take seriously the proposals put forth by Senator Sasse. Unfortunately, I fear they will be ignored.