The Death of Deliberation: Political Parties, Procedure, and Party in the United States Senate
A common observation of the Senate today is that it is paralyzed by excessive levels of legislative gridlock. The Senate is currently composed of more ideologically polarized members, and party leaders exercise more influence in the decision-making process by virtue of leading more cohesive political parties. However, the argument that the Senate and, by extension, the Congress are being undermined by rampant obstruction overlooks the fact that the contemporary Senate is still capable of overcoming the differences among its members on measures of significant import without descending into an endless debate characterized by ideological partisanship and irreconcilable gridlock. So while scholarly accounts of congressional decision-making all too often seek to explain why gridlock happens, the more important question, and the one that forms the basis of this dissertation, is why gridlock does not happen. Specifically, I argue that the Senate has developed several patterns of decision-making throughout its history in an effort to maintain its legislative productivity in the presence of procedurally-empowered senators. My primary thesis is that the Senate has developed a new pattern of decision-making called structured consent in order to limit conflict and pass legislation in a polarized environment. According to my theory of structured consent, both the majority and minority party leaders exercise significant influence over the decision-making process by virtue of their leadership positions, which they routinely choose to utilize in order to moderate, rather than exacerbate, the procedural choices of their partisan colleagues. I conclude with the observation that the Senate's ability to produce important legislation in the current environment may undermine the institution's deliberative function. This suggests that while the contemporary Senate may indeed be "broken," it may not be the result of the conditions typically acknowledged in the literature. Put simply, deliberation has succumbed to the Senate's bipartisan determination to avoid gridlock and pass important legislation.
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