Pin It
Favorite

Rewriting the Rules 

Via filibusters, small-state senators held too much power for too long

click to enlarge robert-herold.jpg

Senate Democrats' recent vote to limit filibusters on certain presidential nominees has become the Republicans' red herring du jour. Columnist Charles Krauthammer, Fox Nation's intellectual-in-residence, denounced what the Democrats did as a "raw power-grab." He charges that, in one fell swoop, they have transformed the Senate into a house without rules.

Krauthammer's histrionically charged traipse down his pathway of imaginary horribles aside, yes, Harry Reid's Democrats reluctantly employed parliamentary procedure to their advantage. So what else is new? Since 2009, Congressional Republicans have relied on arcane Senate procedures and propaganda to derail a president they couldn't defeat at the ballot box. To put it into perspective, this isn't the first time the Senate has changed its rules. "Cloture" was adopted during the Woodrow Wilson years. Then in 1975, the Senate lowered the number of votes required for cloture from 66 to 60, while doing away with the requirement that filibustering senators take and hold the floor as Jimmy Stewart famously did in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Today, just by inking a petition, 40 senators from small-population states can stop business.

Indeed, this filibuster binge underscores a deeper problem, one built right into the Senate's DNA. The Senate, from the very beginning of the Republic, has been unduly influenced by senators from over-represented states. Today, senators from states that together make up no more than 20 percent of the total U.S. population can bring the institution to a halt.

Madison and Hamilton saw this coming, which is why they argued that both houses of Congress be elected on a proportional basis. But the less-populated states demanded two senators per state, and the Southern states, most also among the least populated, also demanded that their slaves count as people for purposes of population. These two unprincipled deals — two senators per state regardless of population, and slaves counting as three-fifths of a person — was the price of gaining support from smaller East Coast states and all the Southern states.

The Founders did create the U.S. Senate, which has become what Lewis Gould titled his book, The Most Exclusive Club. Terms were set at six years with the expectation that longer terms would encourage deliberation and buffer senators from the passions of the moment. So how has this exclusive club done over the years?

Actually, not all that well — especially on the big issues. Consider that slavery existed in America until the end of the Civil War in 1865. In the century after slavery officially ended, right up until until Lyndon Johnson's landslide win in 1964, the Senate, influenced by over-represented Southern states that relied on the filibuster as weapon of choice, did nothing at all.

The Senate, through use of the filibuster, put off dealing with the residue of slavery — segregation and voter suppression — for almost a century. The poll tax and literacy tests were the tactics of choice, aided and abetted through shorter voting periods and polling places open for fewer hours, located in difficult-to-get-to places. (Election 2012, with some of the same problems, serves as a reminder that sometimes the more things change, the more they stay the same.)

Moving on from structural entrenchment to passions of the moment, the disastrous Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which escalated the Vietnam War, was passed by a vote of 98-2 — after less than a day of floor action and debate.

Fast forward: Following 9/11, what passed for a serious deliberation on a resolution authorizing George W. Bush to invade a foreign country that had not attacked America took the form of what Gould describes as "a desultory session that often strayed from the issue at hand to discuss parochial matters; lawmakers debated the order in which they should speak with more fervor than whether the war in Iraq was wise and necessary."

Then there was the Patriot Act, viewed by Gould as "hastily adopted."

Notably, most nominee "holds" have nothing whatsoever to do with the nominee; rather, the senator has a bee in his bonnet about some unrelated political issue. Take South Carolina's Lindsey Graham, for example: He threatens to filibuster all Obama nominations until he gets the information about Benghazi that he is sure the President is hiding. He has to be hiding something: why else would Fox News charge that the administration is hiding something? Actually, Graham doesn't care all that much about Benghazi; what he cares about is looking tough enough to survive an upcoming primary challenge.

Thus it is that the government of the United States is being held hostage to the primary election fortunes of a single senator representing a state that has a population amounting to less than 1.5 percent of the nation's total population.

Where I come from, that's what we call a "raw power-grab." ♦

  • Pin It

Speaking of Comment, The Senate

  • Puppy Love
  • Puppy Love

    Burned out by politics? Winston and his kind can help
    • Sep 8, 2016
  • What Now?
  • What Now?

    How a career change forced me to reevaluate fatherhood
    • Jun 30, 2016
  • Felonious Judgment
  • Felonious Judgment

    A community of hope and restoration can be ours with fair chance hiring
    • Jun 23, 2016
  • More »

Latest in Comment

  • Incendiary Words
  • Incendiary Words

    Trail Mix: Trump's gifts to civics teachers everywhere
    • Dec 1, 2016
  • This Isn't Normal
  • This Isn't Normal

    America has gone down this road before, and it's a dead end
    • Dec 1, 2016
  • Fake-News Nightmare
  • Fake-News Nightmare

    The social media dream of the 2000s is fading, but we can reset the system by sticking up for the truth
    • Dec 1, 2016
  • More »

Comments

Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

 
Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

Today | Mon | Tue | Wed | Thu | Fri | Sat
RALLY

RALLY @ Washington Cracker Co. Building

Tue., Dec. 6, 6-8 p.m.

All of today's events | Staff Picks

More by Robert Herold

  • Another Step Forward
  • Another Step Forward

    As her third season begins, Gonzaga women's basketball coach Lisa Fortier continues to put her stamp on the Zags
    • Nov 17, 2016
  • Accidents All Over
  • Accidents All Over

    This Congress is perhaps the least productive and worst reviewed since the Civil War; will anybody pay for that?
    • Oct 20, 2016
  • Transparent Motives
  • Transparent Motives

    One candidate's an open book; the other is shrouded in secrecy. Guess which one isn't transparent enough
    • Sep 22, 2016
  • More »

Most Commented On

  • Unfinished Business

    Isaiah Wall wants to get his life on track. But first, he's gotta buy drugs for the police
    • Nov 17, 2016
  • This Isn't Normal

    America has gone down this road before, and it's a dead end
    • Dec 1, 2016
  • More »

Top Tags in
News & Comment

Briefs


green zone


marijuana


trail mix


election 2016


Readers also liked…

  • To Kill the Black Snake
  • To Kill the Black Snake

    Historic all-tribes protest at Standing Rock is meant to stop the destruction of the earth for all
    • Sep 8, 2016
  • A Culture of Support
  • A Culture of Support

    The season is ripe for compassionate change
    • May 13, 2015

© 2016 Inlander
Website powered by Foundation