Truly the last refuge of the damned is to complain about the nature of the congressional procedure that the majority is using to pass its agenda. Everyone knows that 100 percent of the people who like the underlying health care bill will approve of the use of the procedural mechanisms necessary to enact it, whereas 100 percent of the process-objectors will also be people who don’t like the bill. But instead of admitting it, we have hypocritical Republican opposition to “self-executing” rules and we have David Brooks crying in his soup over budget reconciliation:
In the United States, leaders in the House of Representatives have done an effective job in getting their members to think in group, not person-to-person, terms. Members usually vote as party blocs. Individuals have very little power. That’s why representatives are often subtle and smart as individuals, but crude and partisan as a collective. The social psychology of the House is a clan psychology, not an interpersonal psychology.
The Senate, on the other hand, has historically been home to more person-to-person thinking. This is because the Senate is smaller and because of Senate rules. Until recently, the Senate leaders couldn’t just ram things through on party-line votes. Because a simple majority did not rule, and because one senator had the ability to bring the whole body to a halt, senators had an incentive, every day, to develop alliances and relationships with people in the other party.
At any rate, I personally find the egomania of US Senators probably their least attractive quality. There’s something right and proper, I think, about the attitude most House members have. Most of them are seriously committed to a vision of the national interest and they recognize that you can’t achieve that vision without individuals subordinating themselves to a larger organization. If everyone agrees to accept a little discipline and not try to get their way on everything, then ultimately everyone winds up getting more of their way at the end of the day because it’s possible to get things done. This is how the vast majority of legislatures in well-functioning democracies operate. And, indeed, one shouldn’t overstate the level of party discipline in the House—it’s a lot compared to the Senate, but it’s like child’s play compared to what you see in most countries.
Last, I think the idea that majority voting in the US Senate would be the death-knell for bipartisanship reflects a pretty odd degree of ignorance about the way the American political system works. When Newt Gingrich was Speaker and Bill Clinton was President, we got bipartisan bills. When Ronald Reagan was President and Tip O’Neil was Speaker we got bipartisan bills. Unified partisan control is relatively rare, and unified partisan control with large majorities is extremely rare. Why shouldn’t it result in rare instances of partisan policymaking?