Sunday, January 2, 2011

US Senate

A guy at work was horrified that I didn't recognize the name of some politician  who was going to give a speech, so I'm remedying my deficiency.  Then I embarrassed myself by not being able to remember the Vice President's name (standing there going, Joe somebody... not Lieberman...). I did cough up Hilary Clinton for Secretary of State, so it wasn't a total loss.  Not gonna lie, the politicking this past three months or so was so ugly that I averted my eyes even more than I usually do; I know even less about the incoming politicians than I knew about the ones we already had.  So I figure I'll start from scratch, one branch of government at a time.  Sadly, I forgot the name of whatever politician was going to give a speech, but I suppose you can't have everything.

The President of the Senate is the Vice President of the US (currently Joe Biden, thank you very much).  The Vice President's only constitutionally mandated governmental power is as President of the Sentate- casting the deciding vote in any Senatorial tie.  The first Vice President, John Adams, set the precedent for the office by keeping his nose out of most Executive Branch duties - he was reluctant to challenge George Washington's newly-minted authority.  But Adams had anticipated that, as President of the Senate, he could be the guiding hand and general leader of the Senate.  He bitched at them endlessly until apparently the rules were changed and the day-to-day senatorial governance was delegated to the President pro tempore (in general the most senior senator of the majority party). See this article under the heading "President of the Senate."

The Dean of the Senate is different - an informal title with no official duties, given to the senator with the longest continuous service.  Currently the President pro tempore and the Dean are both Daniel Inouye, D-HI, born 1924(!) and in office since 1963 (!). If he serves until June 29, 2014, he will become the longest-serving Senator in history.

The current senate Majority Leader is Harry Reid D-NV (since 2007), but after the January swearing-in it will be Eric Cantor R-VA.  The leaders of each party are selected by general vote from all the members of the party caucus, not by seniority. Seniority is used rather to decide who gets to sit in which committees, who gets to sit closest to the floor, and who gets the best offices.

The rules governing seniority in the US Senate are more complex than I realized. If I thought about it at all, I suppose I assumed that seniority was simply based on cumulative time spent as a Senator.  Instead, it's based first on current consecutive time spent as a Senator, then whether you've previously been a Senator and for how long, then what other kinds of political offices you've ever held.

Second-to-last is which state has the highest population.  If the newest census reversed the population ranking of two states, I wonder if their seniorities would retroactively switch?  After you get down the list of all 11 criteria, final ties are broken by alphabetical order by last name (in case two senators came from the same state on the same day and have identical credentials).  Has that ever happened?

It sounds like there is considerable rule-making for the purpose of preventing pettiness.  According to Wikipedia, John Cornyn's predecessor, Phil Gramm, "resigned early, effective November 30, 2002, so that Cornyn could take office early, and move into Gramm's office suite in order to begin organizing his staff. Cornyn did not, however, gain seniority, owing to a 1980 Rules Committee policy that no longer gave seniority to senators who entered Congress early for the purpose of gaining advantageous office space."  Seriously.  They had a problem with people resigning from the Senate in order to give their successor a nicer office.

Anyway.  The US Senate.  Soon I will learn something about the actual Senators.  After that, the world. 

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