One determined centrist, alas, will not make for a less partisan Senate
by Lexington, The Economist
IT WAS the intense partisanship of the Senate that deterred Olympia Snowe, a popular Republican from Maine, from running for a fourth term this year—or so she said when she announced her retirement. So it is something of an irony that the front-runner to replace her, Angus King, is not just an independent, but one who seems to take positive glee in bucking America’s two-party system. Mr King refuses to say whether he would caucus with Democrats or Republicans if elected. Yet the question is of more than passing interest. His vote could swing control of the finely divided chamber from one party to another. And the price of his support, he says, could be the adoption of reforms intended to reduce the Senate’s partisan gridlock.
The very dysfunction that is driving Mrs Snowe out of public life, Mr King says, has prompted him to get back into it. Overhauling government, he argues, is even more important than repairing the economy, since an ineffectual Congress cannot craft effective economic policies. To that end, he supports some rather obscure changes to the procedures of the Senate: timelier votes on the president’s nominees to judgeships and other senior posts, fewer filibusters, more scope for the minority to offer amendments, and so on. More broadly, he would like to shore up the principle of centrism. He speaks of creating a centrist caucus, of campaigning for independent candidates in other states, of becoming "the tip of the spear" for America’s neglected moderates.
Getting elected will be the easy part, however. New senators often seem shocked at their impotence. The chamber’s impenetrable procedures tend to deflect even the sharpest of spears....
Moreover, even as kingmaker, it is not at all clear that Mr King could bring about the change he seeks. The Senate’s insufferable procedures, which can usually be changed only by a two-thirds majority, would again be an obstacle. More important, as Mrs Snowe lamented, the chamber is becoming ever more polarised. The coming elections are likely to thin the ranks of centrist Democrats even further, and may also pick off Scott Brown of Massachusetts, one of the few remaining moderate Republicans. [Read more.]