Class Warfare Blog

April 21, 2013

The Filibuster Should Be . . . in the House or Gone

I get the idea of the filibuster. It is a mechanism to prevent “tyranny of the majority,” which is where 51+% of the population can dictate to rest. This was an occasional rule change in the Senate requiring first a 2/3 (67+%) majority and now a 3/5 majority (60+%). It was used sparingly in the past and only for the most important topics because people felt it was a two edged sword. But the designers of the filibuster (the filibuster is not mentioned in the Constitution) couldn’t have foreseen one of the two major political parties wanting to discredit the government and hold the rest of us hostage.

There are two problems with the filibuster, well, three. The rest of the civilized world gets along fine without such a thing so we could do without it entirely. Secondly, it is now used too often, so if it is to be retained its use needs to be limited. Something like each party gets three filibusters per legislative session (two years) would work. And the third is that the filibuster is in the wrong house of Congress, it should be in the House. Let me explain.

The bicameral legislature we were provided by the Constitution was a late addition to the Constitutional debates and was a compromise to address one particular problem: the fear of the tyranny of the majority. In 1790, the U.S. population was 3,929,214 and six states: Virginia, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Massachusetts, New York, Maryland had 66.5% of that population. The smaller states (commonwealths, whatever) were worried that the high population states could dictate to the low population states (the top four: Virginia, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Massachusetts had 50% of the population). The two models being talked about most were a single house of legislators, elected by population, and a bicameral or dual house of legislators (House and Senate) also elected by population. Obviously the “small” states were suspicious of the “big” state’s political power, so the compromise that sealed the deal was for there to be fixed representation in the Senate (two per state), with six year terms compared to only just two year terms in the popularly elected House to make it more of an intellectual and deliberative body.

“A very small fraction of the population of the U.S. (one-tenth!)
has enough votes to stop the government cold.”

Fast forward 220 years to 2010 (census data are only available for years that are multiples of ten, everything in between is estimated). We now have 50 states, not 13, the population is 80X higher at 311,592,000 and the top six states (California, Texas, New York, Florida, Illinois, and Pennsylvania) still have much of the population (40.9%) but the key point is that the bottom 21 states have 10.4% of the population. Each of those states has two senators and, hence, have 42 votes in total, which is unbeatable if a filibuster is in place. And currently there are no limits on the number of filibusters.

Now, I am not saying that all of the Senators in 21 states will block legislation, just that they can. In fact the bottom 41 of the 50 states have only 45.8% of the population so you only need the equivalent of 21 out of those 41 states to be able to block any or all legislation going through Congress. Talk about the Tyranny of the Minority. A very small fraction of the population of the U.S. (one-tenth!) has enough votes to stop the government cold. And if you don’t think that is the plan currently underway, consider the fact that the previous Congress passed the fewest bills of any Congress for which there are statistics.

If the filibuster were limited in number as suggested above and it were in the House, it would take Representatives representing a minimum of 41% of the population to filibuster a bill. That would protect the minority . . . and the majority.

One of two parties has a stated goal of reducing the size of the Federal Government. One of the two parties has filibustered everything in sight. That party is in favor of minority rule.

Tutsis meet the Hutus. Sunnis meet the Shias. Democrats meet Republicans. Welcome to the Banana Republic of America where the minority rules.

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10 Comments »

  1. Goebbels political tool in the 30’s was to shut down the democratic process, then cry “Look! The government is broken!”

    Like

    Comment by john zande — April 21, 2013 @ 7:22 am | Reply

    • This is undeniably the same kind of situation. Politicians are “running against Washington,” get elected, then come to D.C. determined to screw things up, e.g. Ted Cruz.

      Like

      Comment by stephenpruis — April 21, 2013 @ 7:36 am | Reply

      • I keep seeing his name popping up. I believe you might have a true madman on your hands there.

        Like

        Comment by john zande — April 21, 2013 @ 8:14 am | Reply

  2. Good idea Stephen about limiting filibusters to 2-3 per election cycle but they need to get rid of the newer rules that dismisses the need for a Senator to actually stand in the Senate floor and literally filibuster until they can’t no more. This way constituents can plainly see what their representatives are opposed to and if this is in line with their views. Get rid of the “hold” too that allows only one Senator to put a stop on the whole legislative process of any single bill for a set period of time. This rule too has been abused by the GOP minority.

    Like

    Comment by lbwoodgate — April 21, 2013 @ 8:07 am | Reply

    • If we could limit them, how they are done would become less important but I agree with you. The Senate also has adopted a “two track” system where if one bill is stalled, they can proceed on another. This should be eliminated, too. If you are going to prevent the Senate from acting by filibuster, you need to stop it cold.

      Like

      Comment by stephenpruis — April 21, 2013 @ 8:29 am | Reply


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