Trapped in the Senate

The House of Representatives has already given us a good climate bill and a good universal health care bill. They seem poised to vote out a financial regulatory package quite soon. In the senate, none of those things have happened. They’re closest on health care, but instead of voting on a bill on Monday morning they’ll be doing . . . additional procedural antics more suitable to an elementary school student council goofing off than a crucial public institution of what’s still the world’s leading power.

Steven Hill has a nice op-ed in the FT on how ridiculous the whole thing is:

For a start, this “representative” body hardly looks or thinks like the rest of the nation. Only 17 senators are women, while the US as a whole has more women than men. Only five senators are Hispanic, black, or Asian-American, whereas one-third of Americans now belong to ethnic minorities.

A senator’s average age is an elderly 63 and most are wealthy millionaires. A famous 19th-century aphorism said: “It is harder for a poor man to enter the United States Senate than for a rich man to enter heaven,” and things are hardly different today. The senescent senators already have great healthcare benefits themselves, even while tens of millions of Americans do not. This powerful legislative body debating healthcare for the entire country is a patrician gerontocracy more closely resembling the ancient Roman Senate than a New England town meeting.

He also observes that not only is it ridiculous that 41 senators can block action, but the GOP 40 only represents about a third of the population!


At any rate, it’s hard not to sympathize with the Democrats as they struggle with Judd Gregg’s obstruction manual. But on an important level, you really shouldn’t. They’re all a part of the same absurd farce and until they come to recognize that’s what the senate is — not the “world’s greatest deliberative body,” but a bizarre anachronism — nothing will be done about it. When wild-eyed right-wingers wanted to deploy the “nuclear option” in 2005 the stage was set to at least attempt a broad structural reform and a return to majority rules. But instead the Democrats were so eager to preserve the right to filibuster that they agreed to surrender on the actual substantive point at issue — Bush’s crappy judicial nominees. And with the partial exception of Bernie Sanders, I never hear any of them talking about reform. Whining about obstruction, maybe. And, fine, whine away. But the question is what path will be taken to do something about it.