So why is the legislative procedure so complex and opaque? Largely, it is the product of the aggregation of new rules and precedents year after year. The most recent copy of the House’s guide to legislative procedure is more than 1,000 pages long. Which is to say nothing of the Senate’s colossal corpus of precedents governing the chamber’s doings.
A less appreciated but severe cost of this complexity is that it skews power in the chamber to those rare senators and representatives who master legislative procedure. Leaders such as Sen. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) dominate, leaving all other legislators going hat-in-hand to them to plead, “Please help me get my bill through this crazy thicket of rules,” and “Please find a way to let me dodge responsibility for taking hard votes on things like the debt ceiling.”
Reform is desperately overdue. Rank and file legislators should demand the establishment of a joint committee to simplify legislative procedures and to encourage legislators to openly debate and vote. The committee should be given a sizable nonpartisan staff and a few years to draft reforms to be reported to the chamber, and, yes promptly debated and voted upon.