Theater in the Least Deliberative Body.

As the lame-duck session of Congress nears its end, there are a few big agenda items looming. The House has to approve the tax compromise, and the Senate has the new START treaty with Russia and the repeal of the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy banning gays from serving honestly. Members of the Senate are now beating their breasts about whether there's "enough time" to do both. This is despite the fact that it has already been established that both the treaty and DADT repeal have enough votes to pass.

Granted, there are some procedural things that have to happen. But there's plenty of time to get all those in. What some senators are worried about is whether there's enough time for debate. According to TPM, if there's only time enough for one of the bills in the Senate, the White House prefers it to be the ratification of START.

But this is all premised on the idea that there is some amount of "debate" in the Senate that is sufficient, and if the time allotted for that "debate" falls short, then it will have been insufficient, and something will have been lost. But as anyone who has watched Congress lately knows, nothing like "debate" actually takes place.

"Debate" assumes that in order to render a decision, the people voting need to hear the different arguments on each side, contemplate them, perhaps ask questions, and then come to a judgment. But there is not a single senator who doesn't know where he or she stands on this by now. If any votes are in question, it's because of political considerations, not because of some substantive uncertainty ("Well gee, should gay people be able to serve? I just need to hear some more arguments before I can decide"). With the votes not in doubt, if anything fails to pass, it'll be because somebody thought there wasn't sufficient time for posturing and preening.

Bah, humbug.

-- Paul Waldman

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