Revolutionize the Senate

| January 9, 2010 | 0 Comments
James Fallows has a great piece in the Atlantic Monthy that ruminates over the supposed historic decline of the U.S. as a world power.  Most of the article is a rebuttal of that proposition.  His arguments are relatively persuasive and it does give hope for the future.

But he does have one huge caveat.  His view presupposes that the steps that must be taken to preserve America’s position in the world.  However, to the extent any of those steps require government action, his view is sobering.  His correctly focuses his attention on that most undemocratic dysfunctional institution, the United States Senate.  Because we now have a new de facto requirement that it requires 60 votes to accomplish anything…literally anything, the bias against action is nearly insurmountable.   And this is a new thing.  As Fallows points out:

When the U.S. Senate was created, the most populous state, Virginia, had 10 times as many people as the least populous, Delaware. Giving them the same two votes in the Senate was part of the intricate compromise over regional, economic, and slave-state/free-state interests that went into the Constitution. Now the most populous state, California, has 69 times as many people as the least populous, Wyoming, yet they have the same two votes in the Senate. A similarly inflexible business organization would still have a major Whale Oil Division; a military unit would be mainly fusiliers and cavalry. No one would propose such a system in a constitution written today, but without a revolution, it’s unchangeable. Similarly, since it takes 60 votes in the Senate to break a filibuster on controversial legislation, 41 votes is in effect a blocking minority. States that together hold about 12 percent of the U.S. population can provide that many Senate votes. This converts the Senate from the “saucer” George Washington called it, in which scalding ideas from the more temperamental House might “cool,” into a deep freeze and a dead weight.

Of course, as a Democrat, it is enormously frustrating that that “blocking minority” is composed mostly of Republican senators, who disproportionately represent those low-population states who have undemocratic representation in the Senate.  It’s a double whammy.  The Senate starts off undemocratic due to the apportionment of senators.  Then you add the 60 vote rule and you’ve got the Politburo.  Very sad.

Category: Politics

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