Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Oddities of our legislature

Here's a good New York Times article with links to several essays and columns about the odd composition of the U.S. legislature. While House representation is based on a state's population, each state gets two Senators. As the states now vary widely in size, we're left with an arguably undemocratic result when it comes to passing laws that would benefit--and are supported by--the majority of the American people.

The Times piece includes a couple of excerpts from an essay by Alec MacGillis:

Why, for example, have even Democratic senators been resistant on health-care reform? It might be because so many of the key players represent so few of the voters who carried Obama to victory — and so few of the nation’s uninsured. The Senate Finance Committee’s “Gang of Six” that is drafting health-care legislation that may shape the final deal — without a public insurance option — represents six states that are among the least populous in the country: Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, Maine, New Mexico and Iowa.

Between them, those six states hold 8.4 million people — less than New Jersey — and represent 3 percent of the U.S. population. North Dakota and Wyoming each have fewer than 80,000 uninsured people, in a country where about 47 million lack insurance. In the House, those six states have 13 seats out of 435, 3 percent of the whole. In the Senate, those six members are crafting what may well be the blueprint for reform.

And a historical explanation for the Senate's design:

The idea was to safeguard states’ rights at a time when the former colonies were still trying to get used to this new country of theirs. But the big/small divide was nothing like what we have today. Virginia, the biggest of the original 13 states, had 538,000 people in 1780, or 12 times as many people as the smallest state, Delaware.

Today, California is 70 times as large as the smallest state, Wyoming, whose population of 533,000 is smaller than that of the average congressional district, and, yes, smaller than that of Washington D.C., which has zero votes in Congress to Wyoming’s three. The 10 largest states are home to more than half the people in the country, yet have only a fifth of the votes in the Senate. The 21 smallest states together hold fewer people than California’s 36.7 million — which means there are 42 senators who together represent fewer constituents than Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein. And under Senate rules, of course, those 42 senators — representing barely more than a tenth of the country’s population — can mount a filibuster.

And Hendrik Hertzberg at The New Yorker weighs in on the filibuster and the byzantine committee structure that water down the meaning of our elections:
For us, an election is only the opening broadside in a series of protracted political battles of heavy artillery and hand-to-hand fighting. A President may fancy that he has a mandate (and, morally, he may well have one), but the two separately elected, differently constituted, independent legislatures whose acquiescence he needs are under no compulsion to agree. Within those legislatures, a system of overlapping committees dominated by powerful chairmen creates a plethora of veto points where well-organized special interests can smother or distort a bill meant to benefit a large but amorphous public. In the smaller of the two legislatures—which is even more heavily weighted toward conservative rural interests than is the larger one, and where one member may represent as little as one-seventieth as many people as the member in the next seat—an arcane and patently unconstitutional rule, the filibuster, allows a minority of members to block almost any action.

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1 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Im glad you are back on track ,
we miss you, blog !!
dnt ever stop !!
thanks

11:01 AM  

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