Jennifer Senior’s New York Magazine piece on why the Senate is so awful has a tremendous amount of merit. But in terms of moving forward and improving things, I think dwelling on all the stuff that’s gone wrong can be sort of a distraction and an impediment to clear thinking. There’s just no way to turn back the clock and recreate the political, social, and technological circumstances that prevailed “back in the day.” There is, however, an easy way to acknowledge that, as Senior says, what’s basically happened is that the Senate has become more like the House.
More like the House, that is, except in the procedures under which it operates. So the obvious way to improve things is just to adopt more House-style procedural rules. Strengthen the leadership vis-a-vis the individual members, make it more majoritarian, etc. The House is hardly perfect, so this would hardly solve all problems, but it does solve many problems by—in essence—cutting down on the number of parties needed to negotiate something. Stronger leadership both makes it easier to do partisan bills without silly buy-offs, and also makes it easier to forge bipartisan deals by getting the key players into a room. The highly individualistic nature of the Senate is anachronistic—a legacy of a different period in American life. We have a partisan politics these days, and what we need are political institutions that fit that paradigm.