There has been a lot of talk about changing the US Senate recently. Kyle likes the idea of increasing the size of the Senate, and also points to this idea, which calls for seating state governors rather than senators in a council type system. Needless to say, there are as many ideas for reform as their are senators. But, one reform is relatively simple and would make a dramatic difference in how the body functions.
Before getting there, we should discuss just what the problem is with the Senate, as currently comprised. It is anti-democratic, meaning that small states are on equal footing with larger states. Of course, there is a reason for this- we live in a federal system. If the Senate was apportioned by population, as congressional districts are, small states would have no protection from their larger counterparts. A tyranny of the majority.
It is an open question whether or not we should still worry about such a tyranny, especially as the states have become more diverse demographically as well as industrially. Though not theoretically impossible, it is difficult to imagine a policy, or set of policies, that would restrict or penalize one or more states for the benefit of their larger brethren. Still, I am not sold on the idea that the Senate needs to be larger or smaller. I hesitate to tinker with such a core tenet of our founding document.
There is, however, a limit we ought to place on minority power in the Senate. That being elimination of the filibuster. As we have already seen, the minority (by whatever categorization, be it ideological/party or geographic) holds an outsized level of power in the chamber. The filibuster only exacerbates the body’s anti-democratic bent. It enables a small group of Senators to not only reject legislation, but prevent it from even coming to a vote.
What results is a tyranny of the minority. No matter that a majority of Senators and a majority of the country may desire a specific piece of legislation, a minority has the power to block the will of the majority. This is simply unacceptable.
And it would be a relatively easy change to make. It requires no constitutional amendment, no legislation. It takes a mere changing of the rules by the chamber itself. Of course, such a change would vice virulent opposition from the party out of power, but also from some members of the majority party. The filibuster is a long-standing facet of the US Senate and today’s majority could be tomorrow’s minority. And, let’s be honest, how many elected officials willingly cede any of their power?
But it is clear that eliminating the filibuster would produce a much more progressive (structurally, not ideologically) chamber. It would also force senators to commit to an actual vote on the merits of a bill, rather than hiding behind arcane procedural votes. In short, it would make the body more representative and more responsive to voters. It’s well past time to end the filibuster.