October 21, 2010

LET'S AMEND THE SENATE

Sam Smith

No matter who wins the Senate this election, you can be pretty sure that the non-constitutional faux filibuster will remain. Both sides like it and it helps keep the Senate from doing something that might make somebody mad except for those who want it to do something. The Democrats don't seem to have enough votes to kill it and Harry Reid has been on both sides of the issue, depending on whether he was in the majority or the minority.

Next to the Supreme Court approved corporate takeover of American politics, no structural aspect of our government is as bad as the way the Senate is now run. Even a few decades ago, to filibuster you at least had to take to the floor and actually talk; now you just file your name with someone and go about your business.

The Senate is not only perverting the Constitution, not only heavily bought and paid for by corporate interests, it is also the most segregated institution in the federal government. If it were a school system it would be under court ordered bussing. Which is why, for some four decades, this journal has advocated creating more states (beginning with the DC, the capital colony) as a way of dealing with this.

Don't expect the Senate to change things for the better on its own or for the corporate media to push them in that direction. It's time for a little direct action.

My suggestion: a constitutional amendment changing the way the Senate operates. The purpose could be to pass such an amendment or just to scare the shit out of the misbegotten lot that runs the place these days. Here are some alternatives for such an amendment, including abolishing the Senate entirely (see, that got your attention, didn't it?):

- Abolish the filibuster and permit most bills to pass by simple majority.

- Adjust the filibuster by lowering the required number of votes and/or requiring opposing Senators to actually maintain the debate on the floor during the filibuster.

- Adjust the number of votes each state has. In 1790, the largest state was only 13 times bigger than the smallest. Today California is 68 times larger than Wyoming yet both have only two votes in the Senate. Forty-two Senate votes belong to a group of states that collectively have less population than California with its two votes.

A quite traditional way to change this would be to give each state a number of seats based on dividing its population by 13 times the population of the smallest state, which is to say the range the framers of the Constitution experienced and were dealing with. No state would get less than two senators, but, depending on the math used, California, for example, might get five and New York three. Other states that would benefit would be Florida, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsvlania. Among the advantages of this would be more senators from ethnic minorities.

- Treat the Senate like the British House of Lords, which is to say as a kind of historic pain in the butt that you can't get rid of, but you want to keep as quiet as possible. For example, the Senate might be reduced to approving presidential appointments and vetoing - with a supermajority - acts of the House.

- Just abolish the Senate and thus give America some of the democracy it was promised but never got.

If any of the above gets you a bit riled up, then I've proved my point. Even if you don't want to abolish the Senate, merely talking loudly about the possibility might have some effect. Who knows, the Senate might even want to take a look at the rotten filibuster rules it snuck in on us over the years.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Why don't we replace the entire government with Forbes list of the top ten richest Americans? The top spot guy would be President, and only vote on "tie breakers" with the other nine. The Koch Brothers, the Waltons, Gates and Buffet would represent the best and brightest of all things American by example of their great wealth. We can stop pretending we have any form of democracy or even a republic and be ruled by the Divine Right of Billionaires. Think of the time and money saved by doing away with elections altogether!

Samson said...

If you really want to remodel .....

Get rid of the Senate as it is. Its roll is taken instead by the House of Representatives, expanded to 500 members, just for an even number if we are fixing things.

Still have a bi-carmaral legislature though. Only now, the "people's house' is indeed the people.

With today's technology, a fully democratic people's house where everyone gets online and participates is very achievable.
-- propose a bill. It needs a certain number of co-sponsers/petition signers to move forward.
-- bills go to committee. interested in foreign affairs, go join the foreign affairs committee. Then you get a vote on whether everyone sees it.
-- debate a bill
-- eventually, a nationwide vote on a bill.

Still takes both houses to pass a bill. So, the current House acts as a formal legislature that's in session.

Such a system automatically means a nationwide vote on any issue such as a declaration of war or raising taxes. A lot of people may only join in then. But others can be as involved as they choose to be.

Just a thought. If you really want to redesign, then why not use modern communications tools to replace the current system which was created for the days when one rode a horse from Maine down to DC to go to Congress?

Samson said...

I happen to like the filibuster. Its a bit of a brake on the system to keep a simple majority from getting too out of control. When both the House and the Senate pass by a simple majority, then stuff passes way too easily.

Don't make the mistake of thinking the Democrats will always have a majority. Think of the damage Sarah Palin could do with the Republicans controlling both houses if a simple majority in both houses passes anything.

My complaint about the filibuster is that the Democrats don't use it. The Democrats always had more Senators than the Republicans today, but they never filibustered to stop Bush.

The Bush years would have been much better with a Democratic Senate that had the guts to stop Bush regularly with filibusters.

And, today's Democrats don't seem too serious about passing anything over top the Republicans filibuster. There are some very old tactics for dealing with this. Like putting what you want on a bill the Republicans want. You control the committees, so you can do this. Then, the Republicans have to pass what you want to get what they want.

Or, at the very least, the Democrats could make the Republicans actually stand on the floor and filibuster. Today its just filing a form with Reid's office, and then he just rolls over and plays dead like he always does.

Actually, when you look at it, what I see is a pattern of the Democrats colluding with the Republicans. The Democrats don't filibuster the Republicans, and then they make it as easy as possible for the Republicans to filibuster them.

So, do we rid ourselves of an important mechanism which protects a minority? Or do we go get some new Democrats who don't act like Republicans?