Gongol.com Archives: October 2023

Brian Gongol

October 4, 2023

The United States of America Higher bars and lower temperatures

The main complaint against super-majority decisions is that they permit a small minority to hold the rest of the body hostage. And yet, that's what has happened to Kevin McCarthy, ousted from his chair as Speaker of the House of Representatives. ■ In treating the Speakership as a partisan office, we get partisan results: Party majorities pick Speakers, not coalitions. When one party holds a narrow majority and that majority contains a cantankerous wing that celebrates chaos, either the leadership holds its place via skillful (and perhaps ruthless) management, or it responds disproportionately to the caucus that has the most power to topple it. In this regard, Nancy Pelosi seems to have been more successful at keeping "The Squad" in check than Kevin McCarthy was at holding off the "Freedom Caucus". ■ We are told by the text of the Constitution only that "The House of Representatives shall chuse [sic] their Speaker and other Officers; and shall have the sole Power of Impeachment.". But it is worth pondering what Congress would look like today, had the Framers required a super-majority vote for the election of the Speaker. A two-thirds vote by the House would almost invariably require a trans-partisan coalition -- only a very small handful of times has the House ever been controlled so thoroughly by one party or another. ■ There is something to be said for separating institutional duties (like running the Article I branch of government) from political ones (like advancing a legislative agenda through that branch). When we ask too much of our officials, we set them up to fail, to crack, or to neglect important things worth doing. ■ Keeping the House of Representatives functioning as a rules-driven system with regular order and predictable budgets and dignified debate may be too much to ask of people who build majorities within fractious parties. Perhaps by making it harder in one sense to choose a Speaker, a two-thirds majority requirement would make it easier to find someone to focus on the proper process of government more than the outcomes.

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