Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Those 60 Votes

Everyone's still talking about how Al Franken's arrival in the Senate gives the Democrats the magic 60 votes . . . except not really, because two Democratic Senators are sick, two are really Independents and several are moderates who don't always toe the party line.

So here's a radical idea -- how about taking those 60 votes, and . . . changing the 60 vote rule! It's not as though the rule is in the Constitution. It's just Rule XXII(2) of the Senate rules, and it could be changed any time by majority vote . . . if you could get 60 votes to close debate on the rule change, that is. Well, now the Dems have 60 votes, kind of, so why not lower the cloture threshold to 55? Or how about 51? Call me crazy, but why not implement majority rule?

It's always been absurd that 41 Senators can veto something the other 59 want to do. It's particularly absurd when one considers that, because of the appalling malapportionment of the Senate, the 41 Senators blocking legislation might represent as little as 11 percent of the U.S. population. (That's right, the 20 least populous states, plus half of the next least populous state, make up only 11 percent of the total population. Check it yourself.)

Of course, in pointing that out, it's only fair to point out also that, if the Senate operated by majority vote, the 51 Senators passing legislation might represent as little as 17 percent of the U.S. population. Even the 60-vote rule guarantees only that legislation will have the support of 24% of the nation (that's what would happen if the Senators from the 30 least populous states voted for cloture on a bill), which is still kind of crazy. But because the House of Representatives is population-based (putting aside minor glitches such as the requirement that each state have at least one Representative), it guarantees popular support for legislation. So the power of 11% of the nation to block legislation is a more egregious failure of democracy than the power of 17% or 24% to pass legislation, inasmuch as legislation requires majority popular support to get past the House.

So the bottom line is that the possibility of filibusters in the Senate is a pernicious departure from the basic principle of majority rule. Yes, the Framers of our nation's Constitution designed the Senate to be part of what makes the federal government creaky and inefficient, to protect us from too much national power. But even a 51-vote requirement in the Senate does that. The Framers didn't stick in a 60-vote requirement. Let's take the 60 votes the Dems have now and lower the threshold to something more reasonable. If we can't get it down to 51, 55 would be better than what we have now.


Anonymous said...

As someone who's generally supportive of Democrats, this sounds like a nice idea now. But when the situation is reversed, and the Republicans have a big majority, won't the 60-vote rule seem like a nice weapon for the Democrats to have?

B.R. Kailua, HI said...

Your writing tone speaks volumes about your Democrat/liberal bias. I also read your condescending flap about income tax protestors. The IRS code should be based on Constitutional authority to tax the individual. Where is that authority given? Care to respond?

Jon Siegel said...

Anonymous -- yes, but really, the side that wins a majority should have the ability to govern. Then if we don't like what they do, we can vote them out. I'm ready to have that rule applied to both sides.

B.R. Kailua: The authority is given in Article I, section 8 of the Constitution, which provides that Congress can "lay and collect taxes," and in Amendment 16, which specifically references Congress's power to tax incomes. Details here:

Anonymous said...

This is a completely fallacious argument when it is based upon the population of the states. The brilliant founders of this country realized that two distinct groups needed to be represented, We the People (through the House of Representatives - proportional representation) and the States (through the Senate - each state on equal footing with two Senators).

So what percentage of US population a Senator represents is irrelevant. We are a representative republic and not a democracy. The founders were looking for balance when faced with the possibility of mob rule by 50% + 1 vote.

So as far as I am concerned the slower the process the better. Prevents wild policy swings election to election, and assures that the change must be beneficial to ALL the people, not just those in charge following one election.