The greatest American political battle of the next decade will be over the United States Senate.
Our leaders have rigged the Senate to only pass certain kinds of legislation. For example, E. J. Dionne Jr. writes in The Washington Post: “Biden’s $1.9 trillion economic rescue and stimulus package is on its way to enactment. It passed the House and can get through the Senate with 50 Democratic votes, plus Vice President Harris’s tiebreaker, because the Senate’s “reconciliation” rule essentially allows money bills to pass on a simple majority.”
Thus, the Senate can easily pass budget legislation; which benefits big corporations, and the rich people who own them. To elaborate big business makes money from government contracts so the budget passes.
Why the Senate Does not Work
However, the Senate’s rules allow a small cadre of extremists to block any measure that benefits ordinary people. For example, Republicans and “centrist Democrats,” killed an effort to raise the minimum wage to $15 by 2025.
In detail, they removed the $15 minimum wage from budget reconciliation because an unelected Senate employee; the Parliamentarian, objected to it. To elaborate, reconciliation is a giant package of budget measures that allows the Senate to pass legislation with a simple majority vote.
They need “reconciliation” because Senate rules require a 60-member (60%) vote to pass most legislation. That makes it impossible to pass almost anything. In contrast, the House easily passed the $15 minimum wage with a simple 51% vote.
Most of the world’s legislatures; including the British and Indian parliaments use a 51% vote to pass legislation. Moreover, the Founders’ intended the Senate to operate on a 51% vote in the Constitution. Unfortunately, Senators adopted rules that require a 60% vote to pass most legislation and now honor those rules as “tradition.”
The Coming War over Voting Rights
I think the battle that destroys or remakes the US Senate will be over voting rights. Essentially, Democrats want a massive expansion of voting rights while Republicans want to restrict the vote.
The Democratic-controlled US House of Representatives passed the “ For the People Act” on 31 March 2021. The For the People Act outlaws gerrymandering; requires no excuse mail-in voting nationwide, requires 15 days of early voting for federal elections, requires automatic voter registration nationwide, and restores voting rights to felons.
Thus, the For the People Act could lead to a massive expansion in the electoral base. The hope is that increasing the number of voters will help Democrats win more elections.
In contrast, Republican state legislators around the country have introduced measures to restrict voting, The Washington Post notes. For instance, there are bills to ban ballot drop boxes, prohibit Sunday voting, and limit the use of mail-in ballots. Many Republicans think restricting the vote will their party win elections.
Notably, no House Republicans voted for the For the People Act or HR 1. Republican leaders including former Vice President Mike Pence (R-Indiana) and ex-President Donald J. Trump Sr. (R-Florida) back those measures. Both Trump and Pence claim widespread vote fraud makes restrictions necessary.
Will the Voting Rights Battle Destroy the US Senate?
Thus, the battle lines for a brutal fight over voting rights are clear. The battleground will be the U.S. Senate, and the resulting conflict could destroy that institution.
I think the voting rights battle will be destructive because it involves ordinary Americans. Notably, right-wing anger over an imaginary stolen election fueled the 6 January riot at the US Capitol.
What happens when millions of Americans realize that Republicans have stolen their right to vote? Will left-wing mobs or mobs of African Americans storm the Capitol or State Capitols?
What happens if a left-wing Trump appears and rides the voting rights issue to the White House? Remember how Trump disrupted the Grand Old Party (GOP) with his idiotic Stop the Steal nonsense. Think how far a Trump could go with evidence of real voter suppression?
The Senate will be ground zero for the voting rights battle because of what US Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) calls its “incredibly obtuse and undemocratic rules;” The obtuse and undemocratic rules will allow Republicans and corporate Democrats, to block any expansion of voting rights.
The Real Problem with the United States Senate
The Senate’s rules are undemocratic because of its undemocratic nature. The U.S. Senate is undemocratic because we elect Senators by state.
To explain, America’s lowest population state Wyoming with 569,013 people and America’s highest population state California with 39.984 million inhabitants receive the same representation in the US Senate: two Senators. Consequently, Wyoming’s 569,013 residents can block any legislation most of America’s 331.42 million people want.
The population disparities explain the U.S. Senate’s “incredibly obtuse and undemocratic rules.” Senators from low-population states wrote the rules to give themselves the power to override the votes of most of the American people. Moreover, those rules give individual Senators more power and the ability to rake in more money from bribes and campaign contributions.
Beyond geography and population, the Senate magnifies America’s racial and cultural divisions. For example, the US Census Bureau estimates Wyoming’s population is 92.5% white. In contrast, the United States is 76.3% white.
Thus, the Senate gives disproportionate representation to whites in a country that is increasingly multiracial. Even if race plays no role in the Senate’s decisions, this situation is ready made for demagogues trying to get votes by attacking “rich white people” or “ignorant white trash.”
In the final analysis, the real problem is the U.S. Senate itself. The U.S. Senate does not represent America.
How to Fix the US Senate
Unfortunately, there is no simple fix for the US Senate. All the potential solutions to the US Senate are tough and possibly politically impossible.
Possible Senate Fixes include:
- Change the Senate’s rules to allow any legislation to pass by 51% vote. We can accomplish this by abolishing the filibuster. This is tough because it will reduce the power and influence of individual Senators.
- Abolish the U.S. Senate and make the U.S. House of Representatives America’s national legislature. Senate Abolition will be tough because it will require an amendment to the US Constitution. A constitutional amendment requires a vote of two-thirds of the state legislatures. I cannot imagine small state legislatures (the majority) voting to reduce their states’ power.
- Amend the Constitution to give higher-population states more Senators. I think this is improbable because it will require a constitutional amendment.
- Add new states to the Union to add more Senators. For example, make Washington. DC, and Puerto Rico states. Or make new states from parts of New York or California (the state of Brooklyn?). This is doable because it can be accomplished with a simple 51% vote of the Senate. If Democrats grow backbones and abolish the filibuster. This is possible but not probable unless Republicans do something idiotic, such as nominate Trump in 2024.
- Hold a Second Constitutional Convention and modernize our federal government by rewriting the Constitution. I think this is improbable because it requires a vote of two-thirds of state legislatures. I don’t think you could get two-thirds of state legislatures to agree on anything.
I think a brutal battle over the US Senate is inevitable. Voting rights could be the issue that sparks that battle.