Status Quo Bias all time winner: the rules of the senate

Currently US ally Israel is responding to a massive terrorist invasion. The US response is slightly hampered by the fact that the  United States has “no confirmed ambassadors to Israel, Egypt, Oman, or Kuwait”, also “the counterterrorism envoy position and human rights envoy position as well as the top job at the U.S. Agency for International Development are unfilled. ” ” these nominations … have been held in limbo all these months thanks to Republican Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, J.D. Vance of Ohio, and Rand Paul of Kentucky. All three have each placed sweeping and overlapping holds on State Department nominees.” As is well known, over 300 military promotions are blocked by Senator Tommy Tuberville.

Almost everyone agrees that the rules of the Senate must be changed so that one Senator can not put a hold on any bill. Many know that the issue is that the Senate has extremely burdensome generally purely theoretical rules which are waived by unanimous consent. This means that the single Senators can delay action but not block it forever. Since Senate floor time is limited and precious, this is a distinction without a difference.

Why doesn’t the Senate change its rules ? Again, in theory, it takes two thirds of the Senate to change a rule, while a majority can confirm an interpretation of a rule. Again this is a distinction without a difference as Senators of both parties are no longer embarrassed about “nuking” rules by claiming that a clearly false interpretation of the old rule made by the presiding officer is correct. In any case, 67 Senators should be willing to consider dealing with an obvious threat to the US more important than preserving the current rules.

The rules will not be changed. One reason is the love of tradition — senators are very proud of the traditions of the Senate which is despised and viewed with contempt by practically everyone else. Another is self interest — the current rules make every Senator extremely powerful. Presidents approach Senators with a bent knee. Mere representatives are not treated this way, because they can’t put holds on bills.

In this case, the personal interest of a senator in being very powerful outweighs their commitment to the common interest (need really) to prevent Cruz, Vance, Paul, and Tuberville from being very powerful.

This is a obvious common issue with status quo bias AKA small c conservatism. Those with power want to keep it, so they conserve institutions which should be changed. Those without power are without power. There is a reason why we use the same word for conservatism and Conservatism. Whatever, we conserve, we also conserve existing hierarchies.

While I think this is a sufficient reason to doom the Senate (and the USA) to disfunction, I also think sincere love of tradition and the sincere sense that business as usual is safe also matter. As in many cases, there is the assumption that it is safe to refrain from changing things, because keeping things as they are is safe. As is often the case, keeping things as they are is not an option.

The senate has changed and is changing. I am old enough to remember when filibusters were very rare (and also when they involved actually speaking at great length and not just voting against cloture — I am so old that I remember when the agenda of the Senate was an agenda and one finished one item before moving on to others). Everyone is old enough to remember when Senators didn’t regularly put holds on confirmations of all nominations to office in an entire department. The old rules semi functioned when supplemented by old now extinct norms and conventions. The Senate will not be what it was, so thinking it would be safe to keep it as it was is irrelevant.