Friday, 3 January 2003

It was either a gold watch or a meaningless title...

Trent Lott's new “leadership position”: chairmanship of the Senate Rules Committee. (Officially, it is the Committee on Rules and Administration.) As PejmanPundit puts it, “The post is utterly meaningless, for all practical purposes.”

Not only is the post meaningless — one could argue that the job is pointless. While the Senate does have rules, they are nowhere near as elaborately developed as those of the House (for much more on this, see Barbara Sinclair's excellent and accessible Unorthodox Lawmaking). The Senate largely chugs along on unanimous consent agreements (UCAs), which are negotiated between the majority and minority leaders; UCAs function much like House rules, but they break down when someone wants to place a “hold” or carry out a filibuster (the House abolished the filibuster in the 19th century, and over time developed in such a way that for anything of consequence to be considered on the floor it requires a rule).

Coupled with the fact Senate committees are weaker than House committees anyway (again because of the absence of per-bill rules in the Senate — anyone can offer any amendment on the Senate floor), chairing the Senate Rules Committee is a massive white elephant position, devoted to minutae such as deciding committee jurisdictions, determining the elegibility of senators, and overseeing the Architect of the Capitol. In sum, running for governor has probably gotten a lot more tempting in the past day or two.