Monday, August 9, 2010

Is the Senate Broken?

I ran across this article on  It brings up some interesting points and made me realize a couple more that were not in the story.  But first, a little background on why the Senate is what it is and the House of Representatives is the way it is.

First, the House.  I believe the makeup on Congress during the drafting of the Constitution was uncertain.  I think there were arguments for a wholly representative of the people camp and a wholly representative of the states camp.  What we ended up with was both.  The House is created the way it is to be the most responsive to the needs of the constituents.  Representatives are elected every two years to make them accountable for their voting record.  You don't forget your Representative mis-represented you in two years time.  Also, the seats are based solely on population.  Yes, more populous states got more seats, and in the early years of the Congress, the most populous states and regions could certainly force favorable legislation through simply by the size of their voting bloc. 

Now for the Senate.  So much of the Constitution is about checks and balances.  The Senate was created in such a way by each member serving a six-year term, they would be less accountable to their constituents and could look at things more from a national perspective.  This provided a check against the larger state voting blocs in the early years of Congress, since each state only had two members.  Also, with six year terms and by the way Senators were first elected, by appointment of the state's legislature, they could be far less accountable to the constituents and focus more on what was desirable to their state and to national interests.  The 17th Amendment, ratified in 1913, made Senators elected by the people of that state.

With that bit of history behind us I would reluctantly say that the Senate is doing the job it was supposed to be doing.  Legislation ram-rodded through the House of Representatives would get far more scrutiny in the Senate for national interests.  Nowadays, even with a six-year term, the availability and tracking of voting records and long memories of scorned constituents makes the Senate, in my opinion, far more reactionary to public interest than it should be.  I also believe there is a lack of real debate and discussion of the issues and far too much power given to the majority and minority leaders of the Senate that essentially twists arms and forces Senators to vote according to their party bloc.  To not toe the line would mean fewer re-election dollars and perhaps a challenge from within the party to someone who will toe the line.

So, no.  I don't think the Senate is broken.  I think the election process with respect to campaign dollars is broken.  I think only money raised in the district should be used for campaigns within that district.  It would take the national money influence out of many campaigns.

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