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Unless you are obsessed with politics, you're probably not throwing around the phrase regular order in casual conversation. And when Mitch McConnell became Senate majority leader, he promised he would restore what he called regular order in that chamber. But Democrats have been accusing him of violating it ever since. NPR's Ailsa Chang explains what regular order means and why it matters.
AILSA CHANG, BYLINE: When you listen to Senators talk about regular order, it sounds like this fabulous, amazing thing. For Republican John McCain of Ariz., regular order is about getting stuff done.
SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN: Regular order leads to a conclusion, a final vote.
CHANG: For Democrat Ben Cardin of Md., it's about reaching across the aisle.
BEN CARDIN: It's respect for each member of the Senate and the traditions of the Senate where we tried to reach some common ground and broader consensus.
CHANG: If this is regular order, who wouldn't want it in the U.S. Senate? But can you make it happen just by wanting it? Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the man who has pledged to return regular order to the Senate he loves, says there's a specific way to do it.
(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)
SENATE MAJORITY LEADER MITCH MCCONNELL: We need to get committees working again. We need to recommit to a rational, functioning appropriations process. We need to open up - open up the legislative process in a way that allows more amendments from both sides.
CHANG: More amendments from both sides has already become a Republican bragging point. In the debate on the Keystone oil pipeline last month, Republicans crowed that they'd voted on more amendments to that one bill than on all the bills on the floor last year. And yes, technically, they did have votes.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDINGS)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: The amendment is not agreed to.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: The amendment is not agreed to.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: Under the previous order requiring 60 votes for the adoption of this amendment, the amendment is not agreed to.
CHANG: This is the sound of dozens and dozens of amendments dying after requiring weeks of debate on a bill that the president says he'll veto anyway. So was this the glorious return of regular order?
THOMAS MANN: You could call it what you want. Was it constructive? No. Was it serious about doing something? No.
CHANG: Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution says you can go through the motions, but regular order isn't about the motions or the process.
MANN: It's all toward an end of writing law, of solving a problem. It's sincere. It's not just strategic.
CHANG: In other words, Mann says, regular order is not about following a rulebook. It has a broader meaning from the Senate of the past when debate proceeded with a genuine desire to find solutions. Like during the 1960s when bipartisan coalitions passed civil rights and Great Society legislation or in the '80s when rewrote the tax code. So Senate Republicans can hold all the committee hearings they want, allow all the amendment votes they want. But Sarah Binder of George Washington University says that doesn't make what they're doing the old ideal of regular order because the partisan strife keeps getting worse.
SARAH BINDER: I think that's the - kind of the sad part of the story. It's kind of hard to get back to a Senate where the Senate works in that type of a fluid, collegial place because that's just not the world, partisan or ideological, that we live in.
CHANG: So far at least for this Senate, the dream of regular order remains elusive. Ailsa Chang, NPR News, Washington.
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