The Senate moves slowly. Can this speed up?

WASHINGTON – The Senate encountered an uncomfortable partisan stalemate this year on voting rights legislation, but when it comes to how senators vote for themselves, there is broad consensus among Republicans and Democrats alike. owner that something is wrong.

Frustration at the slow pace with which Senate votes have reached boiling point has led most of its members to adopt a seemingly alien concept: self-control to stay on track.

In a room where getting assent from 60 senators on almost every major issue proved an unattainable goal, more than 80 people signed the pledge led by Senator Thom Tillis , Republicans of North Carolina, put forward, to curb the length of the vote. It stated that the presiding officer of the Senate could close a vote if the signer was the only missing senator and that person’s vote would be mathematically certain not to change the outcome.

It’s not a cure for Covid and it won’t address the other procedural battles raging in the room, but it could be seen as progress in the Senate lurking, where any step coming out of the 18th century could have sparked a backlash.

“This is unquestionable,” said Mr. Tillis, and he said he was surprised by the willingness of his colleagues – in a rare case of near unanimity – to entertain the audience. a gesture that could make a notoriously inefficient Senate become a chore. more orderly.

The Senate’s voting practices – along with those in the House – have undergone a number of changes starting in 2020 in response to the pandemic. In the early days of the outbreak, lawmakers were urged to leave their attendance blank on the floor to avoid spreading the coronavirus. But what started as a health and safety measure persisted despite nearly every senator being fully vaccinated, turning into a time-wasting marathon and frenzied staff for the day. even the most common problems.

Chamber votes, sometimes mockingly called the world’s greatest body of intentions, have never been particularly swift. Usually set to last 15 minutes, they often extend by several minutes, as Senate officials wait for the last to crept from the airport, a committee vote or some sort of hearing. other family. The Senate often tries to get multiple votes in a row, so any delays will pile up.

But in recent months, the delays have become increasingly severe. It is now common for votes to be drawn out in a row, with some polls lasting up to an hour or more, with many voting taking place over a 45-minute period. The only exceptions are the late-day ballots, when senators eagerly leave the Capitol, or “retirement vote,” which is the weekend, usually on Thursday afternoons. But even that has become unpredictable, and possibly protracted.

“It has really gotten out of hand,” said Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat of Connecticut.

The result, many senators said, was that their carefully calibrated schedules were not adjusted at all, committee hearings were protracted, and the Senate collected even more travel data. even slower.

“We can do more of the people’s work and get more done, and can participate more in the sessions,” said Senator Amy Klobuchar, Democrat of Minnesota and chair of the Rules Committee. committee hearing if we had a more specific schedule of the votes.” “We could spend more time in the room really debating the big issues, instead of waiting for someone to get in their car.”

This is the last point that tends to freeze most senators. In any given vote, one or two of their colleagues will consider whatever they’re doing so important that they’re willing to outstrip the other senators – none of whom are afraid to emphasize the importance. Self-important and heavy workload – cool off as they make their way to the room from an election meeting or a fundraising call off campus.

Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri, the top Republican on the Rules Committee, said: “It’s ridiculous. “It was rude of 95 senators to be there waiting for five others to show up.”

After a long wait recently, Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, Democrat #2, sought to get the last senator’s name to vote from the Senate secretaries, perhaps. to embarrass the violator. The staff claimed not to know.

The senators say that while there may be some habitual offenders, many of them have committed crimes because tardiness has become increasingly rampant.

“Bad behavior creates bad behavior,” notes Mr. Blunt.

“Everybody adapts to their behavior,” said Senator Chris Van Hollen, a Democrat of Maryland. “Now it’s worse and worse and worse.”

Senator Chris Coons, a Delaware Democrat who was among the first to follow the new rules last week after signing the pledge, admitted he was about to. It is a preliminary procedural vote on a nominee.

Mr Coons said: “I went back to my office on a Zoom call with a voter and my aide walking in and saying, ‘Senator, you really need to go. “They actually closed the vote when I walked through the door, but I signed the letter. It was fine. ”

The Senate has disobeyed the House and allowed members to vote by proxy during the pandemic, an option that has become a convenient crutches for some, and probably never will. Senators are proud of their old voting method. While members of the House of Representatives voted “electronically” and the running tally was projected on the wall of the chamber, senators voted pretty much as their predecessors did, with a single word or two. a thumb up or a finger down in front of the tally officer.

Senator John McCain is remembered for his impressive thumbs up to kill Republican efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act — drawing fury from former President Donald J. Trump. An ailing senator famously couldn’t speak pointed to his eyes to signal an affirmative vote to break the opposition against the 1964 civil rights bill. Try it with an electronic device. .

Most senators said they wouldn’t mind missing a vote or two if it could push the Senate to pursue. The new commitment allows anyone who wants the vote to be held open to call their boardroom and request more time to go public.

The senators said they are also well aware of the consecutive voting streaks of Republican Senators Susan Collins of Maine, who voted 8,000th in a row last year – an uninterrupted race in the race. over 25 years – and Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, who cast nearly 9,000 votes in a row. votes before his record is disrupted by the coronavirus in 2020. Their colleagues won’t want a vote so close before they can weigh in, but both often make sure that they register their votes in time so any commits won’t affect them.

Senator Chuck Schumer, a Democrat of New York and the majority leader tasked with getting the Senate running, welcomed the new push, aides said, and called on senators congressmen respect the schedules of their colleagues. Senators say the pledge has had a positive impact.

Mr. Tillis credited Senator Jeanne Shaheen, Democrat of New Hampshire, for helping entice senators on her side of the aisle. He said his interest in getting the Senate trains running on time dates back to his time as the speaker of the North Carolina state building, when he established a number of efficiencies.

He said he might have some other suggestions on how to make the Senate a little more efficient, based on the response he received to the ballot proposal.

“This is a small step,” Mr. Tillis said. “Honestly, it wasn’t a difficult sale. It’s pretty straightforward and just a professional courtesy. ” The Senate moves slowly. Can this speed up?

Fry Electronics Team

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