Back on March 6th, I posted a blog entitled “An Asymmetric Assignment of Guilt” that leaned heavily on the thinking and writing of Norm Ornstein a respected, conservative political scientist who is a Fellow at the equally conservative American Enterprise Institute. Today’s blog follows from the former and again relies on the same scholar.
The latest 54 – 46 vote on the Machin-Toomey bill provides a strong measure of empirical evidence that the Senate has, for all intents and purposes, ceased to function as intended when the upper chamber came into being. Granted that we were founded as a Republic giving states rights not assigned to the federal government by the Constitution, the Senate was supposed to function on the fundamental democratic principle that the majority rules. To safeguard that principle, the Founders omitted from the Constitution any legislative means that would trump it. Yet that is exactly what is happening; even more so since 1991. Now,with any important legislation up for consideration, a 60-vote, super-majority is needed in order to prevent the bill from being filibustered to death.
The filibuster, once a tactic used quite sparingly*, has been badly abused by the Republican minority**. As a result, a clear 54-vote majority for Machin-Toomey got beaten down in what can only be described as an UNdemocratic outcome that flew in the face of the way the Senate is supposed to work.
Were this not bad enough, consider how disproportionate power now rests in the hands of some of the least populace states in the country. For example, Wyoming has 580,000 residents. Their two senators, who voted against Machin-Toomey, cancelled the supportive votes of California’s two senators who represent 38 million citizens.
Changing this dysfunctional state of affairs would require a Constitutional Amendment. That simply isn’t going to happen because the states with the smaller populations will not cede any portion of the power that they have and thus leave themselves at the mercy of those more populace states like New York and California that also just happen to be much more liberal.
The best that we can hope for is a changing of the senate rules regarding the use of the filibuster. There was a chance that would happen at the beginning of the last legislative session. But a move in that direction was killed when senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid (D-NV), successfully convinced his Democrat colleagues not to bring that particular modification to the floor. Because of arcane senate rules, another attempt to accomplish the same thing won’t present itself until after the 2014 mid-term election. One has to hope that for the sake of our democracy, it will happen then.
* Congressional records indicate that the first filibuster occurred in 1837.
**For those interested in keeping score, from 1991 to 2111, Republicans have employed the filibuster 591 times compared to the Democrats’ use of the same tactic on 352 occasions. These figures do not take into account the many times that a bill never reached the senate floor because it was threatened with a filibuster such that its sponsors simply gave up without a floor fight.