Lott Puts Staff to Work on Rules Review

Posted April 11, 2003 at 6:26pm

Senate Rules and Administration Chairman Trent Lott (R-Miss.) is vowing to move rapidly on a top-to-bottom review of the chamber’s rules and precedents.

Lott said he has instructed his staff to begin an analysis of Senate procedure over the spring recess and expects the committee to begin to “look seriously at what we might do to help the institution.”

“I think the Senate has become muscle-bound,” Lott said in an interview last week. “We have too many rules and too many precedents that make it next to impossible to function.”

The Mississippi Republican said he has long favored a review of how business is conducted in the Senate, even when he served as the Majority Leader. But Lott’s insistence on examining and overhauling the rules and precedents is yet another sign that he plans to maintain a high-profile role in the Senate despite the fact that he no longer has a leadership position. In recent weeks, for example, the Mississippi Republican has been critical of his colleagues’ apparent lack of preparedness should there be a terrorist strike on the Capitol.

As for reviewing the rules, Lott said he is not zeroing in on any single item, but added that the use of rules and precedents for partisan gain is adding to a bottleneck in the Senate.

“At the rate we are going the Senate is going to be immovable,” he said.

As Rules chairman, Lott wields great institutional power and is charged with overseeing everything from the assignment of office space to “Congressional organization relative to rules and procedures, and Senate rules and regulations, including floor and gallery rules,” according to the panel’s Web site.

While some insiders are well versed in the rules and precedents that govern the day-to-day operation of the Senate, both on the floor and in everyday administrative tasks, many staffers and Senators do not have a firm grasp of how they work.

Highlighting the importance of his committee, Lott pointed out “it is not an accident” that the panel consists of some of the chamber’s heavyweights, including Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), Majority Whip Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Appropriations Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska).

“Do you think we are on there because we get a good parking space?” Lott said. “No. The Rules Committee can have and has had an impact.”

Daschle said he “thinks a review of the rules would be appropriate,” but added he is not sure what an analysis might find.

“I am not sure at this point what we would change,” he said. “But I don’t think reviewing them hurts any.”

For the Senate to change a rule, the measure must pass by a two-thirds margin, or 67 votes, thus ensuring bipartisan support for approval.

“It is a very complicated effort and usually involves both parties sitting down,” said Don Ritchie, associate Senate historian, adding it is not uncommon for Senators to look at updating the rules, a review that has occurred seven or eight times in the chamber’s history.