Thursday, July 09, 2009

Back to Square One?

With Pedro Espada's apparent return to the Democratic conference, everyone is now wondering just how far the Democrats will turn back the clock on the rules changes made on June 8th. By one account, it does not look good. In an interview with Jimmy Vielkind today, Senator Eric Schneiderman said that the rules passed in January still apply.

On the other hand, there is at least a sliver of hope that once the Democrats regain control, they will actually make some long promised changes (which did not occur during their first six months in power). Senator Daniel Squadron has pledged to fight for reform under the renewed Democratic Majority. It is certainly now in the Republicans' best interest to back reforms, and as we've written before, it doesn't take much of a groundswell to form a majority in such a narrowly divided chamber.

But the Senate must do more than uphold the rules passed on June 8th that made it easier to move bills to the floor over the wishes of the majority leader and divided resources more evenly amongst members. The Senate will never be a functional legislative chamber until it reforms its broken committee system to make committees the engine of the legislative process. They must develop a process for reading, debating, and amending bills in committees before the legislation receives a vote, and if all of the legal ambiguities brought to light over the past month has taught us anything, it is that committees must produce substantive reports showing their intent in revising and passing the legislation under their consideration. The rest of the Democratic caucus would do well to not only follow Senator Squadron's lead in pledging to fight for rules reform, but also to look to his committee markup procedure as a model for the road ahead.

The Senate Democrats have been given the rare gift of a second chance. If they turn back the clock on rules and go back to business as usual, they will blow it in record time.

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