Identifying the failures of the U.S. Senate

Published 9:59 am Friday, January 8, 2010

The U.S. Senate no longer functions. It is officially unmanageable.

Recently, in the lengthy health care debate in congress a few democratic senators were able to significantly revise the legislation simply because their single votes permitted or denied the super majority of 60 votes.

Consequently, though about 60 percent of Americans wanted a public option for health insurance, Senator Lieberman did not. Lieberman, voting with the insurers who support him so well, singlehandedly defeated the popular will.

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To be fair he did so with the help of 40 Republican senators, united together to vote “No” on all things Obama. That has become a common Republican practice as the Republican senators have set new records for making the senate ineffective.

The Republican success in ending the value of the senate has been derived from the single tool of the filibuster. Once a rarely used procedure, occurring less than once a year in the 1950s, fewer than seven times a session in the 1960s, and half as used when the Democrats were in the minority, Republicans have perfected the filibuster.

In 2008, Republican senators used the filibuster a record 129 times and threatened it on virtually every bill. If the function of the “loyal opposition” is to prevent policy changes by an opposing administration, then they have indeed achieved a high level of success.

And many of their supporters would embrace this success. After all, when you cannot advance your own ideas the next best idea is to prevent competing ideas from advancing.

And so the small Republican minority has effectively closed the Senate to any reforms sought by the Obama administration. It is working, and it is causing voters to wonder why the Democrats cannot accomplish anything.

The voters may well toss out many Democrats for this inability to enact new policies into law in 2010 and in the 2012 presidential elections. And why shouldn’t they?

After all the Senate rules can be changed by a simple majority (51) votes (U.S. vs. Ballin, 1892), so if the filibuster has closed the senate by its incredible abuse, all the majority has to do is change the rule to allow 51 senators to enact law.

Times have changed, and the abuse of the filibuster requires a response.

As the nation has become more polarized in its politics it is now much more likely to see U.S. Senators act as lemmings following party lines, rather than as independent leaders seeking the best for their country.

The model of government that saw the senate as the more deliberative body is no longer the working model of American politics.

Republican senators vote en bloc, none daring to oppose the party opposition to all things Obama. Given this pre-disposition to ignore thoughtful consideration of the need of the nation, the only viable option is to change the Senate rules to make majority rule able to pass laws.

After all, the very premise of winning elections is that those who win a majority will be able to enact the very programs that the people elected them to accomplish. The current senate rules thwart the will of the people and reduce the senate to a failed entity.

If the Democrats expect to hold any majority of any size they need to understand that Americans will not accept their inability to accomplish any legislative implementation of policy.

Their ineffectiveness is of their own doing and can be changed by their own doing. To do less is to invite the voters to see them for what they are … ineffective.

Let the majority rule.

Jim Crawford is a contributing columnist for The Tribune and a former educator at Ohio University Southern.