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A Review of

Esteemed Colleagues:
Civility and Deliberation in the U.S. Senate

Burdett A. Loomis

Washington D.C.: Brookings Institution Press

2000. 273 pages.

Reviewed by:
Gianna Gayle H. Amul
MA Political Science

Political Science 252

Dr. Olivia C. Caoili
University of the Philippines, Diliman
August 9, 2007

The United States Senate considered the “living symbol of (their) union of states (US

Senate Website, 2007,” remains an interesting topic for political scientists,

because it remains an active assembly that legislates autonomously (Hague and Harrop, 2004:

266). It is argued however that assemblies as institutions are in decline and their functions and

purpose have shifted. These were attributed to the “emergence of disciplined political parties, the

growth of „big‟ government, the organizational weaknesses of assemblies and the rise of interest

group and media power (Heywood, 2002: 328-329).”

Through a cooperative and collaborative endeavor of leading American congressional

scholars, the book Esteemed Colleagues: Civility and Deliberation in the U.S. Senate not only

explored the United States Senate (Senate, hereafter) as an understudied but prestigious

institution but also addressed the issue of the decline of civility and the politics of deliberation in

the contemporary United States Senate.

In the first part of the book, Baker and Uslaner surveyed the issue of civility in the

contemporary Senate. In terms of civility, they described the U.S. Senate as: 1) a legislative

body whose members‟ relationships are characterized by “institutional kinship (15-16)” that

eventually led to what Baker, an active scholar, journalist and adviser to Senators in the past

three decades, calls “constitutional cohabitation”; 2) the more “civil” deliberative legislative

body compared to the United States House of Representatives (32). Baker (24-25) defined the

“etiquette of institutional kinship” as follows: 1) “taking no active role in a primary election

against a colleague; 2) coordinating fund-raising activities so that they do not conflict with those

of the colleagues facing the closest reelection contest; 3) agreeing, either formally or informally,

on the announcement of federal projects beneficial to the state; 4) agreeing, either by active

coordination or acquiescence on patronage nominations and; 5) giving cues on issues and votes.”

Uslaner (33), who has taught and written comprehensively about Congress, trust and corruption

for three decades now, attributes the Senate‟s civility to the “long standing tradition of courtesy,

the bipartisan friendships that permit senators to reach agreement even in the face of policy

disagreement, to the six-year term that gives senators more freedom to repel outsiders who

would push them to the extremes and to a simple fear of replicating the contentiousness of the

House debate.”

It is important, however, to note that in their investigation, there are signs of a decline in

civility in the Senate due to the “collapse of the congressional party system and the increased

polarization between Republicans and Democrats (42-43)” as well as the “fading sense of

trust…and weakening of the center in American electoral politics.

In the second part of the book, Sinclair, Evans and Oleszek, and Gamm and Smith

examined the Senate as a “deliberative institution (57).” Sinclair (59), author of the award-

winning Transformation of the U.S. Senate (1990) explored the intricacies of the “individualism,

partisanship and cooperation” in the Senate. She posited that the legislative body in question is

an “individualist Senate (59)” because “individual senators exercise a great deal more discretion

about when and under what conditions to participate on the party team than House members do

(and) they have available attractive alternative channels for participation and they pay little price

when they go off on their own (64).” Sinclair also argued that the elevated level of partisanship

has “transformed the preferred Senate leadership style from that of solo operator to majority

leader as head of a party team (64).” She emphasized the role of the party leader in “maintaining

the necessary cooperation (74)” to the extent that “the climate of restraint and

cooperation…becomes a collective good (73).”


Evans, whose main research and teaching interest is American national institutions, and

Oleszek, a senior specialist in the legislative process at the Congressional Research Service, in

turn, discussed the procedural dynamics of Senate deliberation focusing on unanimous consent

agreements (UCAs) generated by “informal negotiations among interested senators, with party

leaders and relevant committee leaders playing major roles (84).” UCAs developed into a

“critical device for facilitating floor action while guarding the prerogatives of individual

members (102)” while being more “tactical, complex, individualized and ad hoc (91)” in the

context of an individualistic Senate.

In this light, Gamm, whose current interest is on Congress and voluntary associations,

and Smith, whose recent pursuits include a study on party leadership and the emergence of the

modern Senate, expounded on the important but diminished role of the Senate‟s presiding officer

in the person of the United States Vice President and a President Pro Tempore. The weakness of

the presiding officer is mainly ascribed to the creation of the modern caucus which is “more

reliable than the presiding officer for solving collective action problems of any political

importance (112).” The role of the presiding officer was reduced to that of “enforcement of the

Senate‟s rules and orders (120).” This diminished role of the presiding officer, according to

Gamm and Smith (130) “reflects the tradition of informal governance preferred by Senators.”

Accordingly, the “emergence of modern party caucus, scheduling routines, unanimous consent

practices and party leadership (130)” as characteristics of the modern senate is attributed to the

failure of experiments involving the presiding officer.

In the third part of the book, Oppenheimer, Cook, Davidson and Campbell examined

Senate deliberation in context of the dynamics of the relationships of: 1) the strategic behavior of

members of the Senate who differ in constituency size; 2) the Senate and the media, and; 3) that

of the executive and the Senate. Oppenheimer, (137-138) whose main interest lie on

congressional elections and congressional policymaking, was particular in pointing out that: 1)

the Senate is the “most malapportioned democratic legislature in the democratic world from the

perspective of the one-person, one-vote standard;” 2) there are differences in the

“representational experiences” of small-state Senators from that of populous state Senators; and

3) there are differences in the “goals and the paths to political success of Senators” who have

differences in constituency size. Oppenheimer (138) saw these differences as factors affecting

Senators on “what activities they view as important, the committees on which they choose to

serve, the time they spend on different activities and how they behave strategically in the

Senate.” It was in this aspect that the decline of civility in the deliberations of the Senate was

seen as caused by the “enormous range in the size of constituencies that Senators represent and

the effect of those size differences on the behavior of Senators (155).”

Cook, with his experience and expertise in research on media and American politics, did

a study of the evolution of the relationship and the dynamics between the Senate and the news

media in particular, pointed out that the media has an evident impact on Senate deliberations

such that the media may: 1) “provoke legislators to think in the public interest; 2) push

definitions of public problems that fit with journalistic production values above political

concerns and; 3) work to speed up deliberation to favor the first available alternative- all without

furthering the consultation of the public at large (184).” Cook argued that the impact brought

about by the media resulted to the following: 1) “political agendas are increasingly reactive to

new agendas and policies have to be crafted with news values in mind; 2) political processes are

sped up under the media spotlight; and 3) the public and the interests of the public are not

necessarily more involved when the legislative process is mass-mediated (182-183).”


On the other hand, Davidson, who co-authored The Encyclopedia of the United States

Congress with Donald Bacon and Morton Keller (1995) and Campbell, who co-authored

Impeaching Clinton: Partisan Strife in Capitol Hill with Nicol Rae (2003) examined executive-

legislative relations focusing on: the process of the Senate‟s advice and consent roles in ratifying

treaties; in the confirmation of executive appointments, as well as ambassadorial nominations

and issues regarding foreign policy, and judicial nominations; its oversight functions over the

executive and its important role in the impeachment process (200-215). It is within these

complex and pressure-ridden processes that executive-legislative relations became characterized

by “compromise, conflict and flux” which: 1) “requires that the president engage in a continual

process of legislative coalition building” and 2) “depends on the nature of the institutional

environment , the contour of political forces, the accessibility of economic resources and the

substantive character of the policy problems on the nation‟s agenda (197).”

In the last part of the book, Ornstein and Thurber looked at the Senate as a civil

deliberative body through examining the dynamics of the impeachment process as well as comity

(or lack of it) in the Senate Budget Committee. Ornstein, who was famous for questioning the

Congress‟ capacity as a deliberative body in 1990, examined the impeachment case of former

President Bill Clinton which the House of Representatives and the Senate deliberated on from

1998 to 1999. He also argued that the differences in how the House of Representatives and the

Senate responded to the pressures of the impeachment process embody the political culture

prevailing in the Senate (231). Ornstein describes this political culture of the Senate as that

“shaped by its greater prestige” and its tendency to “inculcate in members a sense of institutional

loyalty (231-232).”

Thurber, who in his almost four-decade scholastic endeavor had studied Congress,

congressional-presidential relations, congressional budgeting, congressional reform, interest

groups and lobbying, and campaigns and elections, in contrast, analyzed how comity and trust on

the Senate Budget Committee declined due to a number of internal and external factors that led

to deadlock over the budget as compared to the early characteristics of the Senate Budget

Committee as a “model of courtesy, reciprocity, apprenticeship and specialization (245-246).”

Thurber argued that the following factors affect comity in the Senate Budget Committee: 1)

“policy preferences imported with members after each election; 2) turnover(number of freshmen

on the Senate Budget Committee and the number of retirements in recent years); 3) negative and

expensive campaigns as well as perceived electoral vulnerability ; 4) partisanship; 5) interest

groups; 6) public opinion; 7) presidents; 8) deficit or surplus and 9) ideologically based

differences over policy (255).”

Loomis, in his part as editor, applied his expertise honed by four decades of scholarly

work on legislatures in the United States, interest group politics, elections, political parties and

voting behavior as well as public policy and public opinion. Esteemed Colleagues is a successful

attempt at looking into the processes and dynamics in the United States Senate. The book gives

an overview of the Senate‟s institutionalization as asserted by the following measures applied by

Polsby (1968) to the U.S. House of Representatives: 1) “institutional autonomy defined in terms

of ease of identification of members, difficulty of entry, and internal recruitment of leadership; 2)

complex internal organization defined in terms of role specificity and widely shared

performance expectations, regularized recruitment to roles, and regularized patterns of

movement form role to role; and 3) universalistic criteria applied in the conduct of internal

business and impersonal codes that supplant personal preferences as prescriptions of behavior

(Sisson in Kornberg, 1973: 23) .”

The analysis done by US congressional scholars of the Senate‟s civility and deliberation,

as part of the political culture of the legislature in the United States, remains an important subject

to the study of politics and government especially in defining the characteristics of the

contemporary Senate. It highlighted the functions of the legislature in democracies like the

United States of America: representation, participation, resource allocation and legitimation

(Caoili, 1993: 2). Apart from these, it also performs conflict resolution and oversight functions

(Angkar, 1991:15).

The compilation of articles that covered topics regarding the Senate as an institution or

arena where civility and deliberation is exercised and as an actor that coexists with the House of

Representatives, the media and the executive provides a comprehensive and thorough coverage

of the structure, processes and dynamics within the Senate.

The analysis of the individual authors in their respective articles entailed not only

quantitative methods in the form of statistical analysis but also qualitative methods in the form of

historical and institutional comparisons and analysis of primary sources from Senate journals.

The scholars who contributed to the compilation had different writing styles but all were able to

convey their arguments in clear, precise and interesting terms accompanied with a thorough

knowledge and expertise on the dynamics of the US Senate.

Esteemed Colleagues differed from other books on the US Senate such that it focused on

the Senate both as an actor (characterized by civility) and as an arena (where deliberation is

practiced). The contemporary literature on the Senate, on the other hand, focuses on specific

practices in the US Senate such as filibustering, on the gender gap in the contemporary Senate,

on the elections to the Senate, on the constitutional oversight functions of the Senate and on the

advice and consent functions of the Senate.

The book sheds light on the issue of the decline of civility in the contemporary Senate as

an analysis of the Senate hurled right into the agency-structure debate in mainstream political

science. It traces this decline through an examination of the historical, institutional and cultural

dynamics within the Senate. It attributed this decline of civility through the increasing

partisanship in the Senate as well as the infusion of new “blood” into the upper chamber.

Congressional scholars in other countries can benefit from this book especially those

democratizing countries where the institutionalization of the Congress is still underway. The

problems the US Senate has are a far cry from problems that legislatures in democratizing

countries are experiencing. It can serve as a guidebook of signals to scholars who are closely

watching the developments unfold in their legislative systems and provide mechanisms from

lessons derived from the United States Senate‟s politics and history which shall reverse the

perceived decline of the assembly in their own countries.


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International Political Science Association, XVth, World Congress, Buenos Aires

Caoili, O. 1993. “The Philippine Congress: Executive- Legislative Relations and the Restoration
of Democracy” State of the Nation Reports. Quezon City: UP-CIDS and UP Press

Hague, R. and M. Harrop. 2004. Comparative Government and Politics: An Introduction.

Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave Macmillan

Heywood, A. 2002. Politics. Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave Macmillan

Sisson, R. 1973. “Comparative Legislative Institutionalization: A Theoretical Exploration” in A.

Kornberg (ed.) Legislatures in Comparative Perspective. New York: David McKay

United States Senate Website. 2007. July 30, 2007