Friday, January 06, 2023

History of Speaker: How do you say lame duck in American?

What's so dull about this?

Only a Canadian journalist would draw the lesson from Rep Kevin McCarthy's fruitless efforts to become Speaker of the House of Representatives of the United States that:

By contrast, the drama that’s attached to what might be called the “race for the mace” in Canada — the election of a Speaker for the House of Commons — pales in comparison.

Like we'd enjoy having something like the American are enduring? 

The article does so on, however, to acknowledge that the job is completely different.  In fact, allowing for the differences between the US system and parliamentary democracies, the American Speaker is roughly equivalent to a prime minister -- one who has established they have the support of a majority of the elected house and therefore holds authority to dominate proceedings and make policy recommendations. 

Seen in that light, the long wrangle to select a Speaker in Washington is maybe not as bizarre, dangerous, humiliating, and intolerable as much coverage is making it out to be.  It's just a matter of determining what the majority of members want to do. In parliamentary systems, this kind of drama often happens when no party holds a majority after an election. Negotiations have to take place to determine who will form a government and what concessions they will pay to gain the support of sufficient numbers from rival caucuses of members.

The American problem is merely (in parliamentary perspective) that there is not yet a majority coalition in the House. The Democrats are unwilling to ally with the Republicans. But some of those elected as Republicans are also unwilling to ally with most of the other Republicans. Eventually the dissident Republicans will come around, or some of the Republicans will have to support a Democrat speaker, or some of the Democrats will have to support a Republican speaker.

The only real problem the American House has is that there is no provision in the American constitution similar to the standard solution to deadlock in parliamentary democracies: dissolving the House and consulting the voters in fresh elections. The American people are stuck with these guys for two years. 

Photo: Toronto Star  

Update, January 9:  So the deadlock broke. Now they have a Speaker, but he is weakened by reliance on an unstable majority coalition. In parliamentary systems, minority governments are often similarly unstable, but with the safety valve that they can collapse and the voters get to make a new legislature. The American system doesn't have that, so difficulty in legislating anything could last a couple of years. 


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