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December 09, 2010

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Related. (Quick preview: Tucker Carlson is a d-bag who doesn't understand that food stamps have to last longer than one meal.)

But think of how bad things would be if taxes hadn't been cut in '01.

That's too many people; clearly we have to take away their food stamps.

The Wealthiest Nation on Earth

Liechtenstein? Qatar? Luxembourg? Bermuda? Norway? Jersey? Kuwait? Singapore? Brunei? Faroe Islands?

Perhaps we should try something different

There will be no meaningful change as long as the most progressive 40% of the population has 10% of the votes in the Senate.

Won't happen.

And there will be no constitutional convention.

So what exactly do you suggest should be tried?

Duff Clarity: So what exactly do you suggest should be tried?

I suggest you stop this kind of purity trolling, first of all.

I've written plenty about what I think should be done, but in this case I happen to be writing about the existence and scale of a problem without proposing a detailed and politically-plausible solution. Largely because this problem is not one with a single solution other than "get a lot more people employed", which task can be accomplished in any number of different ways.

So you've got nothing.

Newsflash: the most progressive 40% of the population had 60 votes in the Senate for almost two years, and no meaningful change took place. Giving people food stamps is not a solution to a problem, it is a band-aid. And band-aids are designed to be there for a short time while the problem gets fixed. If you are not fixing the problem, you might as well not put the band-aid on it, because then you just have two problems. So, discussing the band-aids is at best irrelevant and at worst prevents you from doing anything about the real problem.

the most progressive 40% of the population had 60 votes in the Senate for almost two years

No, they didn't.

Newsflash: the most progressive 40% of the population had 60 votes in the Senate for almost two years, and no meaningful change took place.

Look at the 60th vote in the Senate during that period. Say, Ben Nelson. Try googling "Ben Nelson filibuster" if you're unfamiliar with how comfortable Ben was filibustering Democratic proposals.

The 5 largest states by population had 10% of the votes in the Senate.

And the 5 largest states by population had, approximately, 40% of the population of the not so united states of America.

The 5 largest states by population had 10% of the votes in the Senate.

Doesn't that include Texas and Florida? I agree that the Senate produces an skewed result, but not because of how liberal Texas and Florida are. :)

I agree that the Senate produces an skewed result

Do you want to have a democracy or do you not want to have a democracy?

And the 5 largest states by population had, approximately, 40% of the population of the not so united states of America.

so what do you think we should do about it?

Do you want to have a democracy or do you not want to have a democracy?

Not really sure what you mean here. Im pointing out that There will be no meaningful change as long as the most progressive 40% of the population has 10% of the votes in the Senate and then The 5 largest states by population had 10% of the votes in the Senate suggests that Texas and Florida represent the most progressive 40% of the country. Or, even that everyone in Cali and NY are in the most progressive 40%.
How I would like the country to be governed doesn't seem relevant to correcting this.

We?

Not really sure what you mean here

Urban voters are terribly under represented in the Senate. Rural voters are terribly over represented.

This is not going to change.

Phil:

That particular d-bag is one Matthew Boyle, not Tucker Carlson.

I think there are lots of policies by the Bush administration that you could attack, but the linkage between the tax cuts and the number of people on food stamps today is incredibly tenuous. I'd say that off the top of my head, the housing policy, bank oversight, and war in Iraq are all much more likely candidates. Even if tax cuts for rich people created many more jobs than a lack of tax cuts, they still might not have much to do with the banking system collapse/housing market craziness/war causing an enormous Recession/Depression.

Yes, the disproportionality of the Senate and the power of each individual d-bag Senator skews our politics terribly, especially when the governing ethos of one party is not governing, so to speak. I'm not the first or the millionth to observe that its much easier to block or prevent things than to accomplish things.

But the deepest root problem is: those most dependent are the least likely to vote.

If the unemployed, welfare recipients and/or food stamp recipients voted in the same proportions as we old, Social Security and medicare loving farts do, things might be different.

They don't. Never have. pols know this. QED.

"you are not fixing the problem, you might as well not put the band-aid on it, because then you just have two problems. So, discussing the band-aids is at best irrelevant and at worst prevents you from doing anything about the real problem."

This makes no sense. People would literally starve to death without Food Stamps. We can discuss solutions while keeping bandaids on. It isn't an either/or.

I don't think Jacob is saying that tax cuts for the rich caused the need for Food Stamps. I think he is pointing out the moral malefeasance of a weatlhy nation cutting taxes for the rich while so many people need Food Stamps.At least that's my interpetation of this post!

The 5 largest states by population had 10% of the votes in the Senate.

This is how the Senate was designed. You're griping about Article 1, Section 3?

If so, I'm not sure what to say to that. I'm not sure that there is anything to say to that.

Urban voters are terribly under represented in the Senate.

You can't not know that the Senate represents the interests of the States, can you?

Don't overreach, Slarti. If Senators represented the interests of their States they would be elected BY their States. But we changed that system a century ago.

My Senators are John Kerry and Scott Brown. They often cast opposing votes. They can't BOTH be representing the interests of our little Commonwealth.

--TP

We?

OK, so what do *you* propose?

This makes no sense. People would literally starve to death without Food Stamps.

Thank you. And for "band-aid", I think we should read "tourniquet".

I think there are lots of policies by the Bush administration that you could attack, but the linkage between the tax cuts and the number of people on food stamps today is incredibly tenuous.

I agree with you, however the tax cuts were sold on the basis that they would encourage entrepreneurial risk taking and thus create jobs and general wealth.

In that context, the question "So where are all the jobs and money?" is perfectly reasonable.

"Why the hell are so many people foodstamps" is just a variation on that theme.

In fact, you're right, the linkage between tax cuts and food stamps is pretty tenuous. That's because the linkage between tax cuts and the general robustness of the overall economy is pretty tenuous. Certainly in the case of the Bush cuts that is so.

Which is, I think, more or less the point of Jacob's fourth para.

The takeaway, for me, is that folks who argue for extending them because they will (this time, really, we mean it!) spur entrepreneurial investment are full of crap.

Don't overreach, Slarti. If Senators represented the interests of their States they would be elected BY their States. But we changed that system a century ago.

Yet we still have two Senators per state. Which seems to go the other way. But I get your point, even if the notion of how the state would elect them isn't all that easily defined.

My Senators are John Kerry and Scott Brown. They often cast opposing votes. They can't BOTH be representing the interests of our little Commonwealth.

They can if the interests of your little Commonwealth aren't all that clearly expressed. Kind of like the entire country, writ small.

If Senators represented the interests of their States they would be elected BY their States. But we changed that system a century ago.

I think this is an extremely apt point.

As originally written, the rules for electing Senators arguably reflected a vision of the Senate as a body that represents the interests of the states, per se.

Not that each and every one of Teh Founders thought that was a good idea, but it was the idea that won the day. Then.

We've changed our minds about that since then, and, in a manner that should pass even Brett's muster, implemented that change of heart by changing the Constitution, through a clean and correct Constitutional procedure. We amended it.

I think it's fair to say that the Senate today balances the interests of folks in less populous states against those of more populous states.

So, rural vs urban is probably correct, and deliberately so. FWIW.

But "states" as opposed to "people" is, I think, no longer relevant.

States aren't sovereign. IIRC, we already fought that war.

'States aren't sovereign. IIRC, we already fought that war.'

Sovereignty resides in the people of the states, and since those people elect their senators, it looks as if the interests of the states, as expressed by the votes of their sovereign populations, is represented.

'Do you want to have a democracy or do you not want to have a democracy?'

I do not want to have a democracy and I'm glad we were not given one. Of course, if we had been given a democracy, we would have something else by now.

After watching what is being pushed to the table for votes in the 'lame duck' House, I'm glad we have a more deliberative body in the Senate, even if that body has it forced on them by the super-majority rules. At least they can sometimes slow down the hysteria that runs rampant in the House.

it looks as if the interests of the states, as expressed by the votes of their sovereign populations

The interests of the states are not identical with the interests of the people who live in them.

State legislatures no longer elect Senators. They used to, and now they don't. That's because we changed the freaking Constitution to make that so.

States are not sovereign. People are.

If you want to fight that pointless, bloody, stupid war again, we can. I'll get a gun, and I'll meet you on the other side. Hope my aim is better than yours.

I recommend that we all just acknowledge the verdict of history.

State legislatures no longer elect Senators.

This seems to imply that States are their respective legislatures. Or that, somehow, the State legislatures will end up voting, somehow, wildly different than the people who elected them in the first place.

Which might be right, but it doesn't make a lot of sense to me just now.

the linkage between the tax cuts and the number of people on food stamps today is incredibly tenuous.

I feel the need to weigh in on this once more before I got to bed, because it's keeping me up.

The argument that has been made is that we must preserve the Bush tax cuts, because if we fail to do so, we will discourage entrepreneurial risk taking and job creation.

If you make more than $250K a year and you own your own business, I personally expect you to hire somebody - at least one person, if not more - in the next year.

If you fail to do so, I want you to voluntarily give back the 3 to 5 percent of your earned income that you insisted you have to have in order to encourage your entrepreneurial initiatives.

People are going to be living in their cars. Think the "cat food" part of "cat food commission" is a joke? It's not.

It's put up or shut up time.

If you take the money, you need to hire people. Otherwise, don't insist that you need the money.

You don't hire people, we owe you less than nothing. I, personally, will not forget.

The people we are talking about are not an abstraction. They are your neighbors.

Put up or shut up.

This is how the Senate was designed. You're griping about Article 1, Section 3?
....
You can't not know that the Senate represents the interests of the States, can you?

Can one not simultaneously be both *aware* of the text of the Constitution and the origins of that text, and not approve of it?
Or is it just that griping about this seemed odd in a thread originally begun to gripe about the GOP?

For the record, put me down as someone who is griping about Article I, Section 3. Not that it was badly designed- probably useful in an era when people thought of themselves as Virginians first and Americans second. But an anachronism that over-represents some interests by historical accident.

In response to the post,

I wish that the posts on this blog were sometimes written with a little more care. While I might agree that the link between marginally lower tax rates and economic growth is tenuous, your insinuation that low 2000s growth rates somehow prove low taxes don't help growth, is ridiculous. How often does "correlation does not equal causation" get said? Not often enough.

When you write posts like this, then you're no better than the politicians who promote trickle-down economics, because like them, you didn't really think carefully about what you're saying; you just saw some random correlation that reaffirmed your political ideology, and happily proclaimed "this is truth."

Can one not simultaneously be both *aware* of the text of the Constitution and the origins of that text, and not approve of it?

Sure. But pointing out the consequences of it as if it should be in any way out of the ordinary...well, that just seemed a little odd to me.

This is me, speaking. The same me that didn't know much more than nothing
about Grover Norquist; this is the me that's wondering what on Earth could be surprising about the 5 most anything states only having 10 percent of the total Senate vote.

Pick any five states; doesn't matter which. Those states have ten percent of votes in the Senate. Or am I completely off my rocker, here?

Sebastian: the linkage between the tax cuts and the number of people on food stamps today is incredibly tenuous

Beg to differ. The Bush tax cuts cost $2.5 trillion between 2001 and 2010, heavily tilted towards the rich. That money could have been used for investment or for tax cuts slanted towards the bottom end of the income distribution. $2.5 trillion is an immense amount of money to waste - three times what the stimulus cost.

And the tax cuts and the wars were really the only things accomplished in the '00s. No Internet. No space program. No major poverty reduction programs. No interstate highway system.

They were supposed to be the primary economic growth policy of the Bush years and they miserably failed.

Some GOPsters see the food stamp problem indeed as one of too many being entitled to get them. And the obvious solution is...

I propose a bill that certain critters have to wear (very large) badges like 'I am Teh King and there are not enough people starving in this country'.

And the tax cuts and the wars were really the only things accomplished in the '00s.

Hmm. Here we stand at the end of the '00s and I can't say either of those wars actually look particularly "accomplished" yet...


(OK, OK, I know what you mean.)

DeMint (or tehfalsecoiner as he should be known) also opposes the 'deal' because UI is evil.

After watching what is being pushed to the table for votes in the 'lame duck' House, I'm glad we have a more deliberative body in the Senate, even if that body has it forced on them by the super-majority rules. At least they can sometimes slow down the hysteria that runs rampant in the House.

Yeah, how dare the "lame-duck" House take up repealing DADT, a move that's only supported by some 70% of Americans? What a complete waste of time! Thank heavens for the Senate, where a small minority of 57 out of 100 Senators can't move things forward.

JD:They were supposed to be the primary economic growth policy of the Bush years and they miserably failed.
That was not how the tax cuts were sold. It was a secondary benefit. How did GwB sell the tax cuts? Here's Somerby on Bush's 2001 speech to Congress:
People! In that speech to the Congress in February 2001, President Bush was plainly saying that his proposed tax cuts would reduce future revenues! (By $1.3 trillion over ten years, he had constantly said as a candidate.) Plainly, President Bush wasn’t claiming that tax cuts would produce higher revenues. Duh! He was (quite correctly) saying that his cuts would drive revenues down.
Bush also claimed in the campaign that he wouldn't touch Social Security revenue.

Bush also claimed in the campaign that he wouldn't touch Social Security revenue.

and that there would be no "nation building" on his watch. and that he was a "compassionate" "conservative".

To be fair, the Naughties started at the edge of the dot.com precipice, with fund managers looking for an excuse to sell. They got one.

The fiscal response was a classic Keynsian stimulus: a commitment for the government to spend a lot of money (starting with the security binge) for many years: a guarantee of continued demand justifying expansion. If you had called it a stimulus the party in power would have opposed it on ideological grounds, although it probably would have been designed with a greater multiplier effect.

The monetary response was expansionary. Along with lax regulation of the financial sector there was a *lot* of money sloshing around.

The moderate or deep recession implied in 2001 was successfully put off for almost a whole two-term Presidency. Was awfully bad luck it unravelled so much before the 2008 elections. Rove did have The Math.

Jacob,

The food stamp numbers merely reflect the outcome of conscious neo-liberal policies that shift income to the rich and misallocate resources.

http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2010/12/marshall-auerback-dont-get-angry-%E2%80%93-get-some-real-change.html

Regards,

Agree with Duff Clarity here:

This [The US Senate] is not going to change.

I'm not sure the Senate was ever a good idea - look at how latter states in the West were formed - and I'm sure it isn't now. But we are stuck with it.

What do we do about it? It's a boring answer, but it's the only one I can think of: reform the Democratic party. An aggressive and self-aware and vital Democratic party would not only not consistently misread polling data, i.e. take it literally - as they do now - and not only not be so complicit (but 'not as bad') in the crafting of our unfair tax policy, but would also reform the Senate rules drastically, and would do so first thing next congress. That they won't even seriously consider it tells you a lot about just how far up their own butts the Heads of the Party are.

I have voted Dem for many years, but I'm going to have trouble doing it going forward. I wouldn't vote for a Nader-type (or Nader himself), and wouldn't vote for a Republican under any circumstances I can imagine. But I see a Dem party which doesn't really respond to its core, the way the GOP does respond to its core. And I see a Dem party which waiverers (so called 'independents') don't trust to lead, because it *doesn't* lead: it doesn't define terms of debate, but instead passively, operates within the framework of terms its opposition defines. It looks incoherent because it *is* incoherent.

Look, I fear the GOP. They are a disloyal opposition, IMO, cynical, nihilistic, and very dangerous. But what we're doing now isn't working. I'm reminded of Sebastian's post of a few weeks ago which claimed that it's Harry Reid's fault that DADT hasn't been repealed. Of course, in a primary sense, it's not his fault at all - absent the mindless obstruction of the GOP to its repeal (and to virtually everything else Dems/Obama propose or nominate), DADT would be history already. But in another sense, the awfulness and dangerousness of the GOP is indeed the fault of the Dems; they are simply not an effective check. It's pointless to whine about how mean and dirty the GOP is. DO something about it. A good start might be being less like them, ideologically.

BTW, I have a close friend who is well educated, and has vast experience in his and many related fields, who would be seriously malnourished now without food stamps. Malnourished or dead, actually.

look at how latter states in the West were formed

Not being much of a student of history, I'm not familiar with (though I can guess) what you're getting at here, jb. My guessing suggests interesting reading. Can you point me toward something? Thanks.

BTW, I have a close friend who is well educated, and has vast experience in his and many related fields, who would be seriously malnourished now without food stamps. Malnourished or dead, actually

i likely wouldn't be here without them. nor would either of my sisters.

Not being much of a student of history, I'm not familiar with (though I can guess) what you're getting at here, jb.

I haven't read this history in a long time, and can't think of the best book to refer to, but the basic idea is that the nabobs who hashed out the present constitution were clearly interested in the expansion of the country, knew (or at least were counting on the fact that) there would be lots of other states beyond the original 13, and that the formation of new states would be a.) an intensely political process (obviously), and, connected to that, b.) arbitrary. As I remember, it was the Republican party which championed the particular formation of several of the Rocky Mountain/Western states with the borders they have, as well as the timing. Think of the vociferous resistance by the modern gop to DC statehood in reverse.

Sorry I can't point you towards a source. Maybe someone reading will chime in (I hope)?

That was not how the tax cuts were sold. It was a secondary benefit.

The names of the two bills were:

Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001

Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2003

I think it's hard to argue that growth was not the primary selling point of those bills.

Enabling Act of 1889, passed out of a Republican congress, which authorized the formation of the Dakotas (*two* states - four [Republican] Senators!), Washington, and Montana. Idaho and Wyoming were admitted shortly thereafter. Forming a new state is the closest thing to creating political power out of nothing as there is in the US.

'I'm not sure the Senate was ever a good idea - look at how latter states in the West were formed - and I'm sure it isn't now. But we are stuck with it.'

Why was it not a good idea and what would be a good idea? Do you think the US would be better as a pure democracy rather than as a democratic republic?

This [The US Senate] is not going to change.

This might be a case of Stein's Law: "If something cannot go on forever, it will stop."

I'm not sure the Senate can go on forever in its current form. If it can't then the only question is what will make it stop and what the changes will be.

"Beg to differ. The Bush tax cuts cost $2.5 trillion between 2001 and 2010, heavily tilted towards the rich. That money could have been used for investment or for tax cuts slanted towards the bottom end of the income distribution. $2.5 trillion is an immense amount of money to waste - three times what the stimulus cost."

That doesn't really sound like much of a beg to differ. The costs of the Iraq war, for example at estimated at about $3 trillion over a shorter period. And whatever you say about the precise level of utility of tax cuts for the wealthy, the return to the economy is certainly above zero, while the return to the economy of the Iraq war may even be negative.

The cost of the depression are of course difficult to estimate, but I've seen $2 trillion bandied about as a middle level number, and this takes place over about 3 years instead of 10, and also doesn't have the positive effect of tax cuts (however small it may be, I've heard no creditable economist say that it is zero). That is almost certainly more closely related to housing policy, bank oversight and securitization policy than tax cuts.

To the extent that you're using 'tax cuts' as a proxy for 'stupid policy decision' you're rightish, but why not actually call out the policy decisions? What frustrates me is that you don't have to even give up a rant on Bush. You could be mad at him for the tax cuts doing all sorts of bad things to the budget. Or you could criticize lots of his actual policies that have much to do with leading to food stamps.

Why was it not a good idea and what would be a good idea? Do you think the US would be better as a pure democracy rather than as a democratic republic?

Nice strawman GOB. Why does a democratic republic have to be bicameral? I believe that most democracies aren't. I was arguing against both the Senate itself, and bicameralism. 'Lord, give me representative democracy - but not yet!'.

I'm not sure the Senate can go on forever in its current form. If it can't then the only question is what will make it stop and what the changes will be.

'Forever' is a long time. I guess eventually - probably too late - the rules will begin to change, probably in response to calamities which the current-form Senate will have had much to do with enabling. Would be nice if somebody felt like getting ahead of that curve, but I'm not hopeful.

seems like the only way the Senate filibuster will change is if the GOP gets a truly enormous majority.

the GOP in the minority would never vote to limit its own power. but the Dems probably would, out of some quaint notion of doing what's best for the country.

'But an anachronism that over-represents some interests by historical accident.'

The Senate was designed to over-represent some interest and under-represent others when the Constitution was adopted. Less populated states were fearful of being dominated and essentially excluded from political decisions by majorities from the more populous states. The political concerns of the coastal mercantile class were different from those of the rural agricultural class.

Differences now are not necessarily from the mercantile and agricultural sources, but they still exist geographically, so if the Senate representation is a 'historical accident', that's good.

The original filibuster rule allowed unlimited debate as long as someone was willing to speak. Early in the 'progressive' era, the rule was established to require two-thirds vote to end debate. Now it's 60 votes. IMO that's far enough.

If we move to a point where we pass 'major' legislative initiatives by a handful of votes in each house, we will see little compromise, which is the way many things get done with consensus.

Which interests were intended to be underrepresented by the Senate, in your interpretation?

what would be a good idea?

A Senate with some kind of proportional representation and long terms would be a vast improvement. Senators would still be insulated from 'popular passions' due to the longer terms, but they would represent the actual people of the country. As it is now, the Senate is not a 'cooling-off chamber' - it's a throttle, and that's in a country with lots of other political throttles. We are the proverbial 'helpless giant', but it's not because of foreign foes, but rather because we're tangled in our own feet. I'm all for avoiding rash change, but it's only barely possible to affect any real change in this country. That's why Republicans who want to end the welfare state use the incredibly blunt instrument of trying to bankrupt the government, and why liberals who want to strengthen said State count on hundreds of little increments over many decades. It's more than a little preposterous.

This sclerosis also makes political leaders less accountable rather than more.

'Which interests were intended to be underrepresented by the Senate, in your interpretation?'

States with small populations are over-represented in the Senate by design. This results in the complementary under-representation of states with large populations. All of the intent came on behalf of the small population states since they threatened to leave the convention without this advantage being in the Constitution.

The Senate was designed to over-represent some interest and under-represent others when the Constitution was adopted. Less populated states were fearful of being dominated and essentially excluded from political decisions by majorities from the more populous states. The political concerns of the coastal mercantile class were different from those of the rural agricultural class.

The middle part of this is true, but that's as far as it goes- the Senate was designed to prevent the more populous states from rolling over the less populous ones in the House. End of story. When people considered themselves to be primarily citizens of their states, this was important.
Now that we primarily consider ourselves Americans, this is not important. There are plenty of geographical interests not being represented- Cali north of the bay area or inland away from SF and LA and SD. Oregon and Washington east of the Cascades. East Texas (or west Texas). Northern Florida. Upstate NY.
And there are regional interests being overrepresented: the Great Plains mostly, along with a few tiny historical accidents (eg RI).

Differences now are not necessarily from the mercantile and agricultural sources, but they still exist geographically, so if the Senate representation is a 'historical accident', that's good.

We have 50 states, as opposed to the 13 we had at the time. There are plenty of differences between the states, but I think it is bizarre to assert that the Founders somehow foresaw the shape of the modern US and built in some balances of geographical interest via the Senate. If Wyoming-Montana-Idaho and the Dakotas had been incorporated as single states we would have a different balance. If the Spanish had divided what is now California into 4 administrative regions (say, if they found the gold in the Sierras), we might have a different balance.
Those are accidents of history. You might call them happy accidents if they happen to favor your positions, which they appear to do. But there's no particular logic to them.

'There are plenty of differences between the states, but I think it is bizarre to assert that the Founders somehow foresaw the shape of the modern US and built in some balances of geographical interest via the
Senate'.

I don't think I asserted what you suggest. I didn't say that Senate representation serves all geographical interests. It probably stills comes out urban versus rural. I certainly didn't say the Founders foresaw what we now have. And we do still need that check on the House by a body that now represents the people, but not proportionately.

There's plenty of room for compromise on senate representation between 2 senators per state and directly proportional representation. You could institute a representation that increases with population on a diminishing basis and/or put a ceiling on the number of senators at state could have regardless of population.

Were I to come up with something, assuming a compromise would be worthwhile, it would probably be a table with the number of senators based on the percentage of the national population held by a given state. As the precentage goes up, the number of senators goes up, but each additional senator would require a greater jump in percentage of national population. This way, as the population of the states and the nation changed over the years, the table could continue to be used without adjustment, though the total number of senators might change.

Or states could be ranked by population and numbers of sentors based on the ranking, keeping the total number of senators constant, assuming no new states were added.

You could come up with any number of schemes that would have some measure of proportionality without leaving low-population states all but voiceless.

And we do still need that check on the House by a body that now represents the people, but not proportionately.

I think Carlton's point was - and mine certainly is - that this is arbitrary. Do you think representation in a representative democracy should be arbitrary?

When people considered themselves to be primarily citizens of their states, this was important.

And when federating states that had long (some very long) histories of self-government, it was essential and made good political sense. The states admitted since then have developed less, shall we say, organically. (Why two Dakotas?) And there are very few states that are either entirely rural or entirely urban, so it's not clear that the current structure of Senate representation actually serves to balance those (or any other) interests, never mind that the economies of urban and rural areas are now pretty thoroughly interpenetrated so that those "interests" overlap a lot more than they conflict.

And we do still need that check on the House by a body that now represents the people, but not proportionately.

I don't see why. What is the benefit of non-proportional representation? What is it about a geographic region that logically ought to entitle its inhabitants to the same representation in the Senate as the inhabitants of a different, much more, indeed many times more, populous region?

Yes, the Constitution says so, but that doesn't mean it's logically defensible. I can understand the value of a Senate with proportional representation, but longer terms, elected statewide, as a second chamber, but without the rules that now make obstruction so easy.

How about statehood for DC? I don't know GOB's view on that - maybe he favors it. But I doubt it.

My paraphrase: "I believe in representational democracy so long as it's not democratically representational. And as long as I like the political results"

Honestly, I think the whole country would be better off without the Senate in its present form. I think relatively conservative and relatively liberal policy ideas would more likely be tried and either rejected or approved. I am by no means suggesting that majority rule is ipso facto wiser rule. But we have a kind of entropy non-rule now, which is much worse. A minority within a minority can grind anything to a halt. It's beyond 'conservative' and 'liberal'.

How can you rationalize a mediocrity named Kyl, from a small US state, having the ability to block even the consideration of a treaty which will allow us to track and secure nuclear material all over the eastern hemisphere? That's not even the tail wagging the dog; that's a flea wagging the entire doghouse with the dog in it. (I know it isn't necessarily just Kyl in this case, but he's all it takes).

Change the Senate! Change the Senate rules next session. Start with the filibuster.

Re: the Senate:

If what we are after is a body that gives smaller population states more of a voice than they would otherwise have, I see some value in that.

But what we have now is a body in which the minority (whether representing rural or urban, big city or small town) can not only exert some extra leverage, they can and do regularly bring the legislative process to a complete halt.

There is value in not having minority positions be totally run over by mere force of numbers.

There is little value in having the minority be able to shut the freaking government down if they don't get their way.

If you were to ask me how to fix it, I'd say 86 the fillibuster. If the minority wants to get things their way, they will need to convince other folks that their idea is a good one.

The Senate *already* gives extra leverage to sparsely populated areas, and only has 100 members, so the number of folks the minority has to win over to turn a vote around is not that great.

That should be enough.

Get rid of the damned fillibuster. Whatever use it once had has been overcome by the current practice of using it as a total monkey wrench.

A short term measure that would keep the senate at it is while dealing with some of the problems would be the introduction of an extra rule that puts an extra condition on a passing vote (or block thereof). Those forcing a decision (either passing a bill or filibustering it) would have to represent at least say 30% of the population. Thus the populous states would still need the small ones as usual for a majority but small states also could not overrule or block the populous ones so easily. That way a tyranny of either the majority or the minority could be limited on a procedural basis without having to change the constitution itself.
My proposals for a fundamntalc ahnge of the senate would follow the lines given by hairshirthedonist.
For comparision: In Germany there is an additional way to deal with the conflict. Bills come in two shapes. Those that have to pass the Bundestag (~House) only and those that have to pass both Bundestag and Bundesrat (~Senate). The rules that decide in what category a bill falls only rarely lead to a situation where the second chamber thinks it is entitled to a vote while the first chamber thinks it doesn't. And our supreme court (that has to decide in those situations) has a reputation of being a fair arbiter (while I think that anyone saying the same about SCOTUS is either ignorant or a liar).
The Bundesrat is not directly elected but consists of members of the Länder (state) governments. Since German Länder populations are not that extremly imbalanced as in the US, the proportional system usually works fine over here.

To solve a problem, you first have to manage to state it clearly. Here, we are trying to start with increasing per capita income happening at the same time as increased use of food stamps. Cognative dissonance big time, right? Not really.

The problem is that per capita income is an average value. And what is far more relevant to changes in food stanp usage is something closer to median income. (Actually, probably more like 25th percentile, but the principle applies.) Why?

Suppose you have a nation of 100 people who each make $2 per year. GDP is $200. Per capita (average) income is $2; so is median (50th percentile) income. Now time passes and GDP becomes $300 -- so the nation got richer, obviously: per capita income has gone up from $2 to $3. But wait. You now have 99 people making $1, and 1 person making $201 -- so the median income has dropped 50% and the income of the 1 person has increased 100 fold.

If that resembles (overall, not in precise detail) our recent economic history, all that proves is that you've been paying attention. And it also illustrates why looking at per capita income is not going to tell you anything useful about how the economy is doing, nor about what should be done if things are not going the way that they should (on whatever definition of "should" you prefer).

'How about statehood for DC? I don't know GOB's view on that - maybe he favors it. But I doubt it.'

I don't favor it because it doesn't fit my image of what a state is. I think all 50 states we now have had many characteristics not present in DC, including some measure of self-sufficiency. What would happen if DC became a state and the seat of federal government was moved elsewhere? For representation of the citizens, cede it back to Maryland.

I like the Constitutionally defined form of the Senate we now have. It could be changed to a more democratically representative form by amendment, but I think that would require ratification by 3/4ths of the State legislatures, unless Russell thinks this is no longer a requirement (we could lump that in with the 10th Amendment and say, in this new age, it's no longer meaningful). If it is changed in accord with the Constitution, I'm OK.

To include DC in another state instead of it becoming a state of its own would be a fair compromise in my mind. I would still consider the chance of it happening to be close to zero. It's full of Dem voting low income n-words and, although few would admit it, that imo plays a crucial part in the decision process.
I do not understand why DC has that special status since most countries seem to manage just fine with their capitals without treating the inhabitants as second class citizens.

This is how the Senate was designed. You're griping about Article 1, Section 3?

Is that the section that says that Senators for a State should be chosen by the Legislature thereof?

Oh wait, it doesn't say that any more because people decided it was time to change it.

And isn't that the section that comes right after the one that says, in effect, that a black person counts as 3/5 of a white person for purposes of apportioning Representatives?

Oh wait, it doesn't say that any more because people decided it was time to change it.

If the Senate is designed so that one group of people can block passage of anything at all, and another group of people roughly the same size has minimal representation, then the system is broken by design.

Pick any five states; doesn't matter which. Those states have ten percent of votes in the Senate. Or am I completely off my rocker, here?

And those five states might have three million residents, and they might have ninety million residents.

If you look at the 20 states with the smallest populations, they have about 35 million people and enough political power to prevent anything from being passed in the Senate. If you look at the two largest urban areas in the country they have not quite but almost the same population, and minimal representation in the Senate.

That certainly stretches the meaning of "representative democracy".

Imagine a country where NY and LA alone had enough political power to block the passage of any federal legislation they chose to block while the 20 least populous states got 3-4% of the vote. It's easy if you try. That country might look completely different.

Now, is the current state of affairs in the interests of residents of large urban areas?

It isn't. It is no more in their interests than the 3/5 rule was in the interest of "other Persons". And the Senate is not going to change.

And we do still need that check on the House by a body that now represents the people, but not proportionately.

I think this runs together two separate problems, and solves the wrong one. If we're changing the constitution, we could modify the House rules so that it takes supermajorities to take actions with more significant impact (as is done now eg ratifying treaties). Having a separate legislative body which isn't representative of the population as a whole biased the process towards one political pole (ie whichever is over-represented) rather than acting as a brake. Having the "brake" (filibuster) in that legislative body is something of a historical accident as well. But it isn't the Senate's lack of proportional representation that makes it a brake, just its procedures.

Im all for having brakes in the legislative process for minorities (as well as supermajority overrides for those brakes). But the Senate itself is badly designed, and the filibuster is as well.

Sebastian: That doesn't really sound like much of a beg to differ. The costs of the Iraq war, for example at estimated at about $3 trillion over a shorter period.

Right, but we're currently talking about extending some, all, or none of the Bush tax cuts. We aren't currently talking about starting any new wars. It is reasonable to question whether the Bush tax cuts had any significant effect at all or whether they in fact made things worse.

Food stamps may seem like an awfully specific thing to focus on, but again, the information I posted was timely - it had just been released - and I think food stamps are an excellent proxy for economic distress, maybe more so even than unemployment figures, especially as discouraged workers drop out of the numbers entirely.

And whatever you say about the precise level of utility of tax cuts for the wealthy, the return to the economy is certainly above zero, while the return to the economy of the Iraq war may even be negative.

The return on the Iraq war is hugely negative between the opportunity costs of not paying those people to do something useful, the lives lost, and the medical care for the wounded. American achieved essentially nothing of any value whatsoever by expending all of that.

On the question of whether the tax cuts were a net positive, I don't think it's a given. They increased inequality which I believe is a serious drag on growth, and because they weren't paid for with spending cuts they added to the debt which limited more productive contemporary spending and will limit productive future spending to some extent. (I'm not hugely concerned about the deficit, but much more so when the spending is completely wasteful.)

To the extent that you're using 'tax cuts' as a proxy for 'stupid policy decision' you're rightish, but why not actually call out the policy decisions? What frustrates me is that you don't have to even give up a rant on Bush.

This isn't a rant on Bush. It's a rant on the crappy policies that started under Bush, continued under first a Democratic Congress and then under Obama and a Democratic Congress, and look set to continue still further. Those were bad policies. They didn't work. They didn't do what was promised. We have huge problems now, and we're about to blow $3-4 trillion on repeating a tax cut policy ostensibly for growth that not only provably did not help the economy in the last decade* but probably made things much worse.

* In order to assume that the tax cuts had a significant positive effect on growth you would have to believe that the visible effects of the wars and the banking crisis were much smaller than you would expect from their cost; in other words, that the positive effects of the tax cuts were swamped by enormous costs of the wars and bank crisis. But so far as I can tell, nobody thinks that is true - they think that the effects of the wars and bank problems were roughly as you'd expect from their size. If the tax cuts had a positive effect, it was one far smaller than has been apparent as a result of traditional fiscal stimulative policy that goes to infrastructure, unemployment benefits, poverty reduction programs, and direct employment.

Is that the section that says that Senators for a State should be chosen by the Legislature thereof?

You know, I could swear that point had been made before. But maybe not hard enough.

Now what?

Oh wait, it doesn't say that any more because people decided it was time to change it.

Sure, that's how the Constitution works, now, isn't it? You might say it was designed that way.

And isn't that the section that comes right after the one that says, in effect, that a black person counts as 3/5 of a white person for purposes of apportioning Representatives?

Oh wait, it doesn't say that any more because people decided it was time to change it.

I think that now you're throwing your lot in with my point.

If the Senate is designed so that one group of people can block passage of anything at all, and another group of people roughly the same size has minimal representation, then the system is broken by design.

I think this paragraph contains the nut of your point, but I don't get what you're trying to say, here. If you're saying that Senate filibuster rules suck, well, that's a completely different point than...pointing out that ten percent of the states have only ten percent of the votes in the Senate.

Which would be the case even if the Constitution hadn't been modified in Art 1 Sec 3 the way it has.

That certainly stretches the meaning of "representative democracy".

Someone has forgotten about the House, evidently. But let's leave that lie for a bit.

We could have a Senate chosen by the several legislatures of the States, and still be in the exact same situation that we're currently in. Agree, or disagree?

There are of course several possibilities to make the situation even worse. Unfortunately those seem to me to have greater chances of becoming reality then any real improvement.
I'd call that the second law of enGOPy.

Oh wait, it doesn't say that any more because people decided it was time to change it.

I think that now you're throwing your lot in with my point.

I'm not sure what your point is, but if your point is that the Constitution can be changed, you might want to remember exactly what kind of changes had to occur to render the 3/5ths compromise moot.

In this case, politicians elected by around 3% of the population can prevent an amendment from passing, and it is in the political interests of their constituents to do so.

Someone has forgotten about the House, evidently. But let's leave that lie for a bit.

So the House is free to pass bill after bill that could be summarily rejected by Senators representing a tiny fraction of the public, and you think this demonstrates the existence of a representative democracy?

Yeah, let's leave that lie.

We could have a Senate chosen by the several legislatures of the States, and still be in the exact same situation that we're currently in.

We could have a Senate elected by the citizens of the country at large in an actual democratic election, and we would have a much different situation than we are currently in, and it would be much less arbitrary and much more representative and more accountable to the public as a whole.

But that can't happen under the current state of affairs because the representatives of the vast majority of people, who would benefit from it, do not have the political power to implement it. And so the problem grows worse, as the population imbalances between large and small states continually increases as it has for 2+ centuries.

ObWi seems to have eaten my last comment. No great loss... But briefly, it was:

GOB is against statehood for DC because DC doesn't fit his 'image' of a state. I say that's awfully arbitrary. If the criterion is DC's lack of 'self-sufficiency', well, any state that lost its main 'industry' will have that problem. Likewise, take away a state capital from any city, and that city will suffer. So? BTW, does Singapore fit the correct image of a State? Hong Kong?

Republican pols in the 19th century did what any pols would do: see an opportunity and take it. I'm not trying to outlaw politics. But imagine if the West was currently solidly Democratic; we would hear YEARS of howling from the GOP about the anti-democratic, inequitable, elite Senate. If DC were solidly Republican, Statehood would be a sacred cause. Politics is politics. But spare me the implication that preserving the Senate as it is is a matter of principle.

Since this is ObWi, I thought we could talk about principle. I believe that drastically reforming the Senate would redound negatively on both parties' fortunes at various times, and be better for the country overall.

Apples and Hand Grenades -

We're conflating two different, but related, things:

Apples: The constitutional design of the senate is, as many of you have said, to keep the big states with the biggest house representation from rolling the smaller states. Fine. I grew up in MA and live in RI. I'm not uncomfortable with that.

Hand Grenades: The dysfunction of the senate is not in its constitutional design, nor in who elects the members, but in the rules of the body which the body itself decides.

The members of the body can freely change those rules at the start of each new congress, every two years. No constitutional amendment is required.

There is nothing anywhere in the constitution which allows for or limits filibusters, holds, unanimous consent, or any other of the obstructive parliamentary manouvers which are so DAMNED frustrating.

And I can't believe we're this far down the thread and no-one has stated something so very obvious.

And I can't believe we're this far down the thread and no-one has stated something so very obvious.

um..I did. But it was a long time ago. The Dems could do it in a few weeks. They won't, of course.

@ jonnybutter

No, of course they won't. Any more than the DOD will start closing bases in the states and districts of the obstructionists who have yet to pass a defense authorization budget.

And it wouldn't take "weeks", it would trake an afternoon.

The constitutional design of the senate is, as many of you have said, to keep the big states with the biggest house representation from rolling the smaller states

How would giving Wyoming, with 0.17% of the population, 0.17% of the vote in the Senate, and giving California, with 11.87% of the population, 11.87% of the vote in the Senate constitute "rolling the smaller states"?

Doesn't giving California, with 11.87% of the population, 2% of the vote in the Senate constitute rolling the larger states?

These numbers are getting more and more lopsided due to demographic changes. How bad do the numbers have to be before a resident of California can reasonably conclude they lack representation in any real way?

Getting rid of the filibuster doesn't change this. It would just be a compromise designed to stall the problem for a decade or two, while utterly failing to deal with the problem, much as the compromise of 1850 did.

efg,

The constitutional design of the senate is, as many of you have said, to keep the big states with the biggest house representation from rolling the smaller states. Fine. I grew up in MA and live in RI. I'm not uncomfortable with that.

Why not? What is the inherent nature of a state that says RI and MA should be treated the same in the Senate despite the population disparity?

In this case, politicians elected by around 3% of the population can prevent an amendment from passing

3% of the population of the State? You're going to have to unpack this for me, I think.

Yeah, let's leave that lie.

Yes, that's the problem with democracy: sometimes you just don't get to have your way. Deal.

We could have a Senate elected by the citizens of the country at large in an actual democratic election

Which would be an even larger departure from the original text than what we have right now.

Really confusing, here; you seem to be simultaneously arguing for originalism and radical amendment.

What is it that you want? Besides your way, I mean?

3% of the population of the State? You're going to have to unpack this for me, I think.

You need 34 votes in the Senate to block an amendment. What is the percentage of population in the 17 least populous states? How much of that population has a right to vote? What percentage of that is needed to win a two party contest?

Yes, that's the problem with democracy

Do you really think democracy is a good thing? You seem to like using the word. But we're not talking about a democracy in any sense that I have heard the term defined. In any reasonable definition of democracy, citizens are equal before the law and have equal access to power.

We're certainly not talking about a representative democracy, with every vote having equal weight.

And the problem with non-democracies is that some people aren't given a voice in determining who gets to have their way.

Sure, the people opposed to slavery in 1850 could have been told "Sometimes you just don't get your own way". In fact, that's pretty much what they were told.

Here's the bottom line, 82% of the political power in the Senate belongs to a minority of the population. The numbers are only going to get more lopsided, and there is absolutely no way to change this within the current political system.

Anyone who gives even lip service to the idea of representative democracy should be able to see a problem here. I'm not arguing that we should amend the constitution. I'm not arguing that we should be originalists. I'm arguing that the majority of people in this country are becoming de facto disenfranchised and that this is going to be a real problem if you value representative government that has any claim whatsoever to legitimacy.

Wealth inequality to reforming the US Senate, such are internet threads. The solution to the representation problem of the Senate is easy: Redraw state lines and carefully circumscribe the area around GOB's house to insure he has no representation whatsoever.

Politically: Not a chance in the world.

Seb: And whatever you say about the precise level of utility of tax cuts for the wealthy, the return to the economy is certainly above zero...

That depends. But there is no logical refutation to the claim that such a policy has done incalculable harm to our polity.

So which is more important? It appears the Democratic Party is (tangentially) debating this exact point right now.

Duff @ 12-10-10-10:42 PM. Clearly then, with most of the over-represented states favoring the GOp we can conclude that their party is hell bent on "heightening the contradictions".

Damned Naderites.

IJWTS that it's nice to see Matt McIrvin's name in these parts, and I hope to see it again in comments.

Beyond that, don't expect me to have caught up to anything on ObWi, or the world, in the last six weeks, between now and tomorrow. :-)

"Anyone who gives even lip service to the idea of representative democracy should be able to see a problem here. I'm not arguing that we should amend the constitution. I'm not arguing that we should be originalists. I'm arguing that the majority of people in this country are becoming de facto disenfranchised and that this is going to be a real problem if you value representative government that has any claim whatsoever to legitimacy."

This is absurd. Those people are represented in their local, state governments and the House. The Senate was, and is, designed to protect the various states from the tyranny of the densely populated centers.

The challenge for you is that you don't recognize, or agree with, the concept of a Republic, where the individual entities that agree to join have a reasonable protection from the tyranny of the other entities.

Many states would never have joined without the Senate, many would eventually want to leave without it.

The answer for a more representative democracy is to have the federal government control less stuff so the states can do things that represent the will of their people in those cases.

Marty: The problem with your screed is that you will not take it to its logical conclusion.

Because, in the end, you are making an argument for anarchism.

Thank you.

God Bless,

What is the logical end to how things are??? Other than how things are.

Marty:
The challenge for you is that you don't recognize, or agree with, the concept of a Republic, where the individual entities that agree to join have a reasonable protection from the tyranny of the other entities.

This is where you're failing to take things to their logical conclusion. You've arbitrarily assumed that the smallest entity your above logic can apply to is a state (in the American "provincial" sense of the word). Why should counties or cities accept being in states that don't afford them special, disproportionate protection against the tyranny of other counties and cities? Why should individuals accept being in cities, counties, or states if they're not afforded special, disproportionate protection against other individuals?

A democracy ceases to be one once one part in the democratic decision process ceases to be. Or in more practical terms: if an entity that has effectively lost its democratic legitimacy (e.g. because it is not representative) has veto power, then the democratic chain is broken. To use the logical extreme as an example: Imagine California(D) and Texas(R) had 150 million inhabitants each and all other states had exactly 2. The senate then would consist of the whole population of the 48 'small' states having 96% of the vote while the whole population (minus the 96) of the US had 4%. In the house the 48 'small' states would probably have no seat at all but the US population as a whole would be represented proportionally (absent too extreme gerrymandering). What would be the result? Either total gridlock or the 96 people would essentially rule the country. They would also determine who is president since the electoral college would not be able to compensate for the huge population disparity. In either case the result would be rather undemocratic. And the 96 would block any attempt to change that.*
The Roman Republic also had a similar pseudodemocratic structure with the senate as the elite veto (the remedy of the popular tribunes that introduced the concept of 'veto' was imo in the long run a cure worse than the disease).

*The solution sooner rather than later would be the senate floor massacre killing the whole population of 48 of the 50 states :-)

Quick trivia question: What's the one part of the constitution that can't be changed even by constitutional amendment?

A: The part that guarantees each state equal representation in the Senate. It's right there in Article V, which defines the amendment process: "Provided...that no State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of its equal Suffrage in the Senate." (So ok, technically you could reduce North Dakota's representation in the Senate if you could get North Dakota to go along with it. Good luck with that approach.)

Given that, it's kind of silly to be arguing for proportional representation in the Senate, given that there's no plausible Constitutional path to get there from here. Abolishing the filibuster is much easier - that just requires the votes of enough Senators who are fed up with the current process.

Yeah, but suppose the amendment amends the part of Article V that says you can't amend that?

...If we were to constitutionally amend the Senate to limit the damage from it, probably the easiest thing to do would be to keep it around but largely remove its powers. Turn it into an American House of Lords.

As an outsider, I'll be blunt.

This

the percentage of the population using food stamps rose from 6% in 2001 to 14% today.

is disgusting.
Everything else is wank.

It could be changed to a more democratically representative form by amendment, but I think that would require ratification by 3/4ths of the State legislatures, unless Russell thinks this is no longer a requirement

I think you got the wrong guy, GOB.

I'm generally in your camp as regards the value of the Senate as currently organized. I just think the fillibuster has been abused to the point where it's time for it to go.

That's a Senate administrative issue, not a matter requiring Constitutional redress.

Everything else is wank.

We have a winner.

JD:The names of the two bills were:

Oh, my, much more naive than I thought. Read the budget speech (Feb. 27, 2001) and the only part about jobs is the usual. Taxes on small business da da da means jobs.

Some of what he did talk about:
I hope you will join me to pay down $2 trillion in debt during the next 10 years. Riiiiight.

You see, the growing surplus exists because taxes are too high...I am here asking for a refund.

welcome relief for America's small businesses, which often pay taxes at the highest rate. And help for small business means jobs for Americans. Only place in the budget speech about jobs.

But, naming the bill, though, that's what the bill must be about.

You need 34 votes in the Senate to block an amendment. What is the percentage of population in the 17 least populous states? How much of that population has a right to vote? What percentage of that is needed to win a two party contest?

Since the Senate doesn't purport to represent chunks of people, but rather states, this is a silly conversation to be in. This is the way the Senate has always worked. Again: revert to the old rules of electing Senators, and you could have the exact same, horrific-to-you scenario.

This business about the rules for election of Senators is a red herring, then, no?

[...] This is the way the Senate has always worked. Again: revert to the old rules of electing Senators, and you could have the exact same, horrific-to-you scenario.
Forgive me for missing the earlier part of the conversation, as yet, but in isolation, I'm unclear why only two possibilities are mentioned, when the Senate Rules all can be changed, leaving innumerable possible changes, some of them for the better, some of which I've emphasized over and over, most specifically the modification of Senate Rule 22.

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