A Senate Divided Cannot Focus
Rule V(A) of the Senate Republican Conference prohibits the floor leader and whip from serving concurrently as a committee chairman or ranking member because their leadership responsibilities preclude a sustained focus on committee business. Implicit in this prohibition is the assumption that allowing a senator to occupy both positions at the same time makes it less likely that either one will receive the attention it deserves. That, in turn, undermines Republicans’ ability to overcome the collective action problem and achieve their goals in the Senate. Republican senators can enhance their ability to act collectively and achieve their goals by reforming their conference rules to prohibit all of their leaders from serving concurrently as a committee chairman or ranking member.
Treating Leaders Differently
Curiously, the prohibition in Rule V(A) does not apply to the other leadership positions (i.e., chairman of the conference, vice chairman of the conference, chairman of the policy committee, and chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee). Republicans who occupy these positions can simultaneously serve as committee chairmen or ranking members. For example, the present chairman of the Republican Conference, John Thune, R-S.D., also chairs the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. John Barrasso, R-Idaho, chairs the Republican Policy Committee while also heading the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., serves as vice chair of the conference and chairs the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration. All of these positions have important responsibilities that require senators’ attention.
As noted in a previous post, Republicans have traditionally had a corporate leadership structure centered on a division of labor among distinct positions occupied by separate senators. In other words, Republican leadership positions are coordinate to one another instead of subordinate to one another. Taken together, they are designed to help all Republicans achieve their goals in the Senate. Rank-and-file members thus have a vested interest in ensuring that their leaders are able to do the job to the best of their ability. However, the current practice of allowing leaders below the whip to serve concurrently as a committee chairman or ranking member undermines their effectiveness by dividing their attention and resources between two very different, yet equally important, positions.
Treating Leaders the Same
Republicans may reinvigorate their corporate leadership structure, as well as the Senate’s committee system, by expanding their conference prohibition currently in Rule V(A) to cover each of their leadership positions. By reinvigorating the Senate’s committees, Republicans may make it easier to follow through on their leader’s oft-stated commitment to process more of the Senate’s business via the so-called regular order in the institution’s committees. Expanding the prohibition makes it more likely that the Senate’s committees receive the full attention of their chairmen or ranking members.
Expanding the prohibition may also jumpstart Republicans’ moribund leadership structure by reviving its division of labor. By prohibiting leaders below whip from serving concurrently as committee chairmen/ranking members, the Republican Conference signals that it sees those positions as influential power centers deserving of their occupants’ full attention. By extension, it also helps to justify the significant budgetary resources the leadership positions receive to perform their assigned tasks. For example, the floor leader receives approximately $2.5 million for staff salaries and other expenses. The whip, conference chair, and policy committee chair each receive approximately $1.5 million for staff salaries and other expenses. These budgets reflect each position’s importance. As with the committee chairmen/ranking members, Republicans make it likely that these resources will be used more effectively when each leadership position receives the full and undivided attention of its occupant.
(Note: It is the current practice in the House to prohibit members in the leadership from serving concurrently as a committee chairman or ranking member.)
Rule V(A) (as amended; new text in bold)
The Majority or Minority Leader or Assistant Majority or Minority Leader or Chairman of the Conference or Vice Chairman of the Conference or Chairman of the Policy Committee or Chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee shall not serve as chairman of ranking member on any standing committee…