by Jeremy Leaming
Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson, the state’s newest senator elected on a wave of Tea Party support, earlier this year lamented that during his tenure “virtually nothing” had been accomplished in the Senate.
But Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) says Johnson, a “first-time legislator” and “a political work in progress,” as the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel described him in July, is wrong to suggest that the country’s Founders envisioned a do-nothing Senate.
Merkley writes in a column for The Washington Post:
At no time did our Founders envision that the Senate would require a supermajority to pass legislation. Indeed, the Constitution requires a supermajority only for very limited purposes, including the ratification of treaties and the override of a presidential veto.
Indeed Merkley notes that “many” Founders, including Alexander Hamilton, realized the “destructive” nature of requiring that action happen only by a supermajority vote.
“Alexander Hamilton,” Merkley writes, “observed in the Federalist papers that a supermajority requirement has a ‘tendency to embarrass the operations of government’ and would generate ‘tedious delays; continual negotiation and intrigue; contemptible compromises of the public good.’ This characterization matches how many Americans perceive the Senate today.”
Merkley then maps the changes from a time in the Senate when delaying tactics were rarely used to the present where “the Senate’s deliberative social contract has unraveled.”