Longtime readers of CoOp know that I think one of the reasons why Congress functions so poorly these days is that too much power is centralized in the party leadership on both sides. The discussion over the next Supreme Court nominee is a good example.
In the past, it would have been unthinkable for a Senate Majority Leader to instruct a Judiciary Committee Chair not to hold a hearing on a nominee. The Chair would have told the Majority Leader to take a hike and insisted on his prerogative to hold hearings when and if he felt like it. In this case, though, Senator Grassley rolled over like a cocker spaniel when Senator McConnell announced (probably without consulting him) that no hearing would be held. The White House might nominate an Iowan for the Court as a way of putting pressure on Grassley, but I’m not sure that will work.
While committee chairs of the past were sometimes formidable obstacles to legislation that most of Congress wanted, the decentralized structure that was in place for much of our history was probably better because it created many more negotiating partners and opportunities for compromise. But how do the chairs claw back their power?