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The Empty Chamber - Just How Broken is the Senate?

August 3, 2010 - by David Moore

Via public policy blogger Ezra Klein of the WaPo, please read and bookmark and share with gusto this must-read article by George Packer in that superlative weekly publication, The New Yorker. It’s called The Empty Chamber: Filibusters and arcane obstructions in the Senate, and we’re boosting it as a must-read, worth your time because of how the Senate’s essential dysfunction affects the lives of every single American. Excerpt:

Nothing dominates the life of a senator more than raising money. Tom Harkin, the Iowa Democrat, said, “Of any free time you have, I would say fifty per cent, maybe even more,” is spent on fund-raising. In addition to financing their own campaigns, senators participate at least once a week in the Power Hour, during which they make obligatory calls on behalf of the Party (in the Democrats’ case, from a three-story town house across Constitution Avenue from the Senate office buildings, since they’re barred from using their own offices to raise money). Lamar Alexander, the Tennessee Republican, insisted that the donations are never sufficient to actually buy a vote, but he added, “It sucks up time that a senator ought to be spending getting to know other senators, working on issues…"

… we spoke out on these exact issues last week in our major blog post round-up, Congress Is Broken. Excerpt:

So the poor health of our contemporary democracy is a problem to overcome and organize around, a macro-socio-economic bummer… looking forward, then, what are the realistic first steps towards a cure? Staying on the big-picture level, there’s a lot more work to do articulating our reform agenda. In very brief, OpenCongress and PPF endorse the following:

  • Full Public Financing of Federal Elections — more details to come, lots of options here.
  • Filibuster Reform to ensure fair parliamentary procedure — lots more details to come.
  • The Eight Principles of Open Government Data — we demand that the government comply, immediately and in full, with all of the community-generated eight principles. Nothing short of this standard is sufficient in a true democracy.

… OpenCongress is a non-profit project leading the fight for an open and accountable government. As the most-visited government transparency website in the United States, we’re working every day to build public knowledge and encourage comprehensive reform of our democratic process. Every day, tens of thousands of people use our free and open-source website to learn about bills in Congress and engage with their members in the House — yes, and even the Senate, where pressing public policy issues go to linger in purgatory.

But even as a scrappy non-profit team supported by the open-source community, it’s expensive to maintain this non-commercial, independent public resource. We have a terrific founding supporter in the Sunlight Foundation, but the fact is that the fight to open up government is huge and extremely challenging, and we need more resources than we have now to make progress. Our funders want to know that the OpenCongress community supports our work enough to expand it. So your donation both helps us stay up and running, and builds a more functional Senate headed into the future. Please make a tax-deductible donation to OpenCongress now.

Larger donors and foundations — we have a good start and big plans. Are you in the position to donate $1,000 or more to build amazing new open-source tools on OpenCongress — for example, user-friendly web tools to hold the Senate more accountable for filibustering and arcane shenanigans? Get in touch!

Image above linked from the outstanding must-read piece at The New Yorker, which personally I deem to be the single finest entity and superlative leading light of our weekly magazine culture.

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