Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Pro Tem

After I wrote this post about the seniority system in the Senate, I noticed that that body had published a book about the only leadership job in the full Senate that is assigned strictly on the basis of seniority, that of president pro tempore.

The Senate's description of that book, to which I've linked above, clarifies that the seniority rule for choosing the president pro tem dates only from 1949. I find it ironic that that happened shortly after the president pro tem was moved into the number three position in the order of presidential succession.

In other words, only when the position could potentially matter, was it assigned to the most senior senator. In a national emergency, the ailing 91-year-old West Virginia
Senator Robert Byrd, who has, as I do, the medical condition of essential tremor, could be called on to assume the presidency. His condition has rendered him unable to continue to chair the Committee on Appropriations. How would be handle being put in charge of the entire Executive Branch?

It seems to me that, if the Senate is going to act as though president pro tem is an honorary position, which it is in most respects, they should remove any real power, or potential power, from the president pro tem.

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