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Columns

March 30, 2014

HAMILTON: Congress will be a hard fix

(Continued)

To make this possible, the Senate should do more of its business by simple majority vote of the senators present and voting. I know that many senators like the ability to filibuster, and do not want to abandon the rule that requires 60 votes to close debate. But here’s the thing: the super-majority rule, as it has been applied recently, has become a formula for impotence and disorder. Every democratic institution in this country operates by majority rule except the Senate, where a small minority can completely gum up the works.

It’s important for the majority to assure fair procedures that take minority views fully into account, but at the end of the day Congress needs to work, not be hamstrung by loyalty to a Senate rule that has outlived its purpose.

Which is not to say that tradition has no place on Capitol Hill. Many of the procedures it developed over long years of practice were designed to improve its functioning — especially in designing and enacting the federal budget. That process is completely broken now. Congress needs to focus its attention on returning to the traditional budget process of considering separate appropriations bills, as opposed to lumping the entire budget into a single bill.

Other key processes also need mending. The confirmation of presidential appointees is absurdly slow, seriously jeopardizing a president’s ability to govern. Some 50 ambassadorial nominees await votes in the Senate, some of them having cooled their heels for months, and foreign governments are noticing and taking offense. The congressional ethics committees are dormant. Travel privileges are routinely abused — the government should pay for legitimate congressional travel and no trips should be paid for by special interest groups. The crucially important oversight process has become a political sideshow. Campaign expenditures should be limited and donors should be disclosed.

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