The Wall Street Journal reports that “Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., like many a new leader before him, is pledging to restore ‘regular order,’ in which legislation travels through the committee process and members get to shape and debate it rather than having it dictated by leadership or negotiated behind closed doors. It won’t be easy. In an era of polarization in Congress, the temptation to go around regular order usually wins out.” Certainly, Senate Democrats and some Republican hard-liners will try to delay and amend things and otherwise throw sand in the gears of the GOP’s legislative agenda.
A spokesman for McConnell told us, “Restoring the Senate to a place where legislation is debated and voted on, rather than simply using it as a campaign studio, is a priority for Senator McConnell.” He added, “There is a lot we can get done to help American families, but it will require a Senate that gets back to work.”
That is precisely why regular order is an asset to McConnell. Regular order allows members, including Democrats and dissident Republicans, to have their say in committee and on the floor. No longer can they grouse that they were railroaded by a hasty vote or denied a chance to put their imprint on legislation. If Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, wants a vote on some unworkable provision, his colleagues can give him his vote — and vote his amendment down. It is helpful in a sense for McConnell to demonstrate where there is support — and where there is not — for legislation.
In the past, Cruz and others trying to delay a Democratic bill scored points with the base. But when the legislation at issue is a Republican, solidly conservative measure, the adage “don’t let the perfect become the enemy of the good” comes into play. It is probably too much to hope that Cruz, with an eye on a presidential run, would decide to become constructive and learn the art of compromise. However, others previously allied with him may lean in that direction, depriving Cruz of support and revealing how isolated he really is.
Keeping the Senate in session on Fridays, as McConnell has vowed to do, is a cagey part of the process. By the 25th or 100th amendment to a bill, members will get antsy. Then deals can be struck, extraneous amendments can be withdrawn and bills with wide support can get a vote. McConnell has an abundance of patience and is more than willing to work late into the night if need be. He needs to do this only once or twice to convince members that hundreds of amendments don’t serve their interests.
The Founders called the Senate the “saucer that cools the House’s hot tea.” It is worth noting that the same procedural hurdles that slow down errant legislation from the House also can serve to cool the hot tea of the majority’s backbenchers. Letting the hotheads vent and talk and talk some more should not, if McConnell and others handle matters adeptly, prevent passage of their agenda. To the contrary, it may serve to unify the Republicans and aid in passing conservative bills. That would be a change for the better.