“I don’t want to belong to any club [like the U.S. Senate] that will accept me as a member”

Groucho Marx
Groucho Marx
U.S. Senate Chamber
U.S. Senate Chamber

Little did the famous comedian Groucho Marx realize that he was talking about today’s dysfunctional U.S. Senate when many years ago he sent a telegram to a club stating, “PLEASE ACCEPT MY RESIGNATION. I DON’T WANT TO BELONG TO ANY CLUB THAT WILL ACCEPT ME AS A MEMBER.”[1]

Frustration over the current ways of the Senate is often listed as a major reason why many long-time, respected members of the Senate recently have resigned or announced they are not running for re-election in 2014. In addition, both major political parties are having difficulty recruiting qualified candidates to run for the Senate in that election for the same reason.

Recently the popular former Montana Governor, Brian Schweitzer, who is the Democratic Party’s best hope of retaining the Senate seat now held by Democrat Max Bachus, announced that he was not running for the Senate next year. A major reason for this decision, he said, was Washington’s being a “dysfunctional . . . sinkhole” where “most of the people . . . are frauds.”

One of the major reasons for these negative views, which I share, is the Senate’s rules permitting filibusters of pending legislation and judicial and executive nominations. They are, in my opinion, an abomination and unconstitutional as has been discussed in prior posts.

Yet again these rules have been in the recent news because of threatened Republican filibusters of certain presidential nominations and of the July 16th compromise that allows those rules to remain in place in exchange for the Republicans not filibustering seven pending executive nominations.

I am pleased that these pending nominations will receive an up-or-down vote by the Senate. On the other hand, I am disappointed that so much time and attention is spent on this ridiculous side show and that the filibuster rules are still in place.

I am not alone in despairing the current dysfunctionality of the Senate and more generally the federal government. In the most recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News public opinion poll, only 17% had confidence in our national government while only 10% had confidence in the U.S. Congress according to the latest Gallup poll.

Reversing this horrible public distrust of the federal government is important to Gerald F. Seib, the Washington Bureau Chief of the Wall Street Journal. He suggests the following as important means to that end:

  1. Fix the federal governmental system. The “rules of the Senate need to be changed to curtail the ability of a minority of Senators, or sometimes a single one, to make progress grind to a halt.” In addition, “States need to stop drawing congressional districts that ensure deep and paralyzing polarization by making so dark red or dark blue that only the most ideologically rigid candidates bother to run.”
  2. Modernize the federal government so it is more useful in our everyday lives. For this proposition, Seib praised a recent speech by President Obama which said he had “directed the Cabinet to develop an aggressive management agenda . . .  that delivers a smarter, more innovative, and more accountable government for its citizens.” The President also noted that last year he had “asked Congress for the authority to reorganize and consolidate the federal bureaucracy” and that his Administration had found more efficient “ways to deliver the services that citizens expect in smarter, faster, and better ways.”
  3. Manage the deficit. Although Seib says eliminating the deficit any time soon would be bad for the economy and should not be done, the public needs to sense that the problem is “being tamed intelligently.”

I merely say, “Amen, Brother.”

[1] A prior post chuckled over the humorous correspondence between Groucho and Joseph Welch, the attorney for the U.S. Army in the 1954 Army-McCarthy hearings in the U.S. Senate.