Fixing the Senate

I’ve been reading a bit lately about a general dissatisfaction with the construction of the Senate. Seems people aren’t happy with the rule that gives every state, regardless of population, two senators. Such an arrangement gives a drastically unequal representation to the citizens of the states. Why should Wyoming have the same number of senators as California (to use the example most frequently cited) when they only have about one seventeenth of the population?

This would be a very strong argument – if it weren’t for one thing.

The Senate isn’t the only part of Congress.

There’s also the House of Representatives, which *does* have proportional representation.

It bears repeating that the United States (pay close attention to the plural) did not start as one country divided into thirteen administrative districts, but thirteen individual ‘countries’ that decided to join together for mutual benefit. As you (should) recall from any civics classes that you may have had, the Constitutional Convention was stuck on the matter of Congressional representation. If the numbers were based on population, the smaller countries states (e.g. Rhode Island and Delaware) would find themselves increasingly sidelined by the larger countries states (e.g. New York and Virginia). But if you gave each country state the same number of Congressmen, well, that’s unfair to the people in the larger countries states, right?

Roger Sherman of Connecticut proposed a compromise: Have two houses in Congress. The Senate, where each country state gets two Senators, and a House of Representatives, where seats are apportioned according to population. The former Colonies were used to such an arrangement; it resembled England’s House of Lords and House of Commons.

Each house can propose legislation, and it must be approved by both houses before being sent to the president for approval. Each house can launch investigations. The only differences I can think of off the top of my head are that only the Senate can override a presidential veto, and it’s the Senate that gets to confirm presidential appointments and ratify treaties. Those three responsibilities are hardly things that cry out for proportional representation. To balance out the power, the House gets control of the purse strings. They get to propose all bills dealing with revenue and taxation. The Senate can amend those bills and has some say in where the money goes, but they cannot propose any financial legislation on their own.

It’s interesting that after two centuries of Congress functioning quite well under this system, people are suddenly crying out for reform. Do you think it might be that it’s not the Senate on paper that’s broken, but rather that the party controlling the Senate has utterly abandoned its obligations to the people of the United States? In that case, wouldn’t it be simpler to elect Senators that do what they are supposed to be doing?

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One thought on “Fixing the Senate

  1. In that case, wouldn’t it be simpler to elect Senators that do what they are supposed to be doing?

    Too true, except:

    voter suppression
    gerrymandering

    Until we get rid of those, all other political discussions are fruitless.

    Like

    Reply

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