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.

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