Monday, August 02, 2010

The New Yorker > The Empty Chamber. Just How broken is the Senate?

An excellent article by George Packer & a must read for anyone who is truly interested in understanding why nothing gets done in Washington, DC.
[...] In general, when senators give speeches on the floor, their colleagues aren’t around, and the two or three who might be present aren’t listening. They’re joking with aides, or e-mailing Twitter ideas to their press secretaries, or getting their first look at a speech they’re about to give before the eight unmanned cameras that provide a live feed to C-SPAN2. The presiding officer of the Senate—freshmen of the majority party take rotating, hour-long shifts intended to introduce them to the ways of the institution—sits in his chair on the dais, scanning his BlackBerry or reading a Times article about the Senate. Michael Bennet, a freshman Democrat from Colorado, said, “Sit and watch us for seven days—just watch the floor. You know what you’ll see happening? Nothing. When I’m in the chair, I sit there thinking, I wonder what they’re doing in China right now?”
Between speeches, there are quorum calls, time killers in which a Senate clerk calls the roll at the rate of one name every few minutes. The press gallery, above the dais, is typically deserted, as journalists prefer to hunker down in the press lounge, surfing the Web for analysis of current Senate negotiations; television screens alert them if something of interest actually happens in the chamber. The only people who pay attention to a speech are the Senate stenographers. On this afternoon, two portly bald men in suits stood facing the speaker from a few feet away, tapping at the transcription machines, which resembled nineteenth-century cash registers, slung around their necks. The Senate chamber is an intimate room where men and women go to talk to themselves for the record. [...]