I think the United States Senate should be abolished, and all its powers and functions devolved on the House of Representatives. For two reasons:
The two-senators-per-state rule might have made some sense in 1787 when the Framers were trying to put together a Great Compromise that would be acceptable to the states, which were de facto independent at that time and could choose to remain so. It has no relevance today, and the system that gives a voter in Montana a Senate vote worth at least a dozen times that of a voter in California is indefensible under any democratic theory of government. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled a long time ago that every house of every state legislature must be elected by a "one person, one equal vote" system. Why not extend the same thinking to the federal government?
The above concerns could be met by simply reforming the Senate, by electing it some other way. (In this 1995 book "The Next American Nation," Michael Lind proposed electing the Senate by the "party-list" form of proportional representation.) But I don't see why we need the Senate at all. Every plan submitted at the Constitutional Convention called for a two-house Congress on the theory that legislative power should be weakened by division. But nowadays, and for some time past, most government actions that could be considered abuses of power come from the executive branch, not the legislative. A one-house Congress would be much more powerful as against the presidency, which is exactly what we need at this stage in our history. Some people value the two-house system on the grounds that, the more impediments to legislative action, the better. (I've heard Ralph Nader talk in that vien.) But remember, whatever makes it harder for Congress to enact legislation, also makes it harder for Congress to amend or repeal legislation. A one-house Congress might make more mistakes, but it could also correct those mistakes much more easily than Congress can do in its present form.
Applying the same thinking, I would suggest all states of the Union go to a one-house legislature on the Nebraska model. Why does any state need two houses? A state senate is typically just a more rarefied version of the state house – its members are elected from single-member districts, but they are larger than house districts so the senate’s membership is smaller. What’s the point?
It’ll never happen because you’d need the states (including lots of small ones) to support the change and senators to vote themselves out of a job. But I don’t think it should happen, anyway. Maybe it’s the longer terms, or maybe it’s because it’s a more elite club, but it seems to me that the senate is a more deliberative body than the house, not quite as likely to base its actions on momentary political trends, and acts as an important check. I’d be all for proportional representation, but it ain’t gonna happen.
The purpose of the senate’s “2 per state regardless of population” rule is to prevent a tyranny of the majority.
In the House every state receives representation by population - but what if one state wanted to make a grab at the resources of another state? For instance, what if California (a very populous state) demanded more water and wanted to take some of Nevada’s or Colorado’s, regardless of the impact that doing so would have on those states? If the population of Nevada + Colorado was significantly less than the population of California they may be voted down in the House — but in the Senate those less-populous states would have an equal or greater say in what happens to the water.
That’s just off the top of my head. I’m sure other scenarios can be constructed.
Broomstick, that’s a good arugment. But with proportional representation, couldn’t people in Nevada, Colorado and other states could unite with people in Northern California to elect people from the Stop Los Angeles From Taking Our Water Party?
The Federal gov’t has grown in power far beyond what the framers of our constitution envisioned. Some people may call this a natural evolution, while some strongly resent the loss of state autonomy. So, it depends on your vision for the US. If you envision a more homogeneous country with similar laws everywhere, then your plan makes sense. My vision is more “original intent” in which the states retain a great deal of sovereignty from the feds, and are free to experiment. The current system is more conducive to that vision.
Also, the Senate was envisioned as a more deliberative body. Thus the smaller size. It was meant to slow down the natural tendancy of more direct democracy (as per the House). Don’t discount the value of that function. Strucurally, our gov’t has worked amazingly well for such a long periond of time. Change it at your own peril.
Posted by John Mace: "Also, the Senate was envisioned as a more deliberative body. Thus the smaller size. It was meant to slow down the natural tendancy of more direct democracy (as per the House). Don’t discount the value of that function. "
I discount the value of that function without hesitation or reservation, John. I do not favor “direct democracy” in the form of referendums, because the general electorate is not a deliberative body and is capable of, for instance, voting for tax cuts and unfunded spending mandates in the same election. (This has happened many times in California since the referendum came into routine use there.) A legislative assembly can do that but the illogic will be much more apparent in that forum, making it less likely. But I still think our federal government needs to be a lot more democratic than it is at present, even if that means policies that sometimes shift back and forth with the waves of public opinion. As I pointed out in the OP, a one-house Congress could make mistakes more easily, and correct them more easily.
And the Senate we’ve got now is not a very democratic body at all, despite being directly elected. It’s our House of Lords. Almost every member is a white male multi-millionaire. Does this have any legitimate place in a republic?
The OP’s question is on par with “Should 2 + 2 = 5?”
That is, there’s ZERO chance that the Senate will ever be abolished. The only way you could accomplish that would be through a Constitutional amendment, and that would require 38 states to agree to the proposed change. You really think Vermont, Alaska, Wyoming, Idaho, the Dakotas, Hawaii, Nevada, New Mexico, Maine, Montana, West Virginia, or Utah will agree to give up the clout their two Senators give them? If not, that’s 13 “no” votes right there.
So, forget it. It can’t and won’t happen. Try proposing something with a better chance of passing- like a bill to make Sadie Hawkins Day a federal holiday.
Astorian, I proposed for debate the idea that the Senate SHOULD be abolished. Whether it CAN be abolished is another discussion. Let’s not worry about that right now. We have to start by discussing the idea on its merits. There was a time when the idea of granting voting rights to women seemed both preposterous and politically impossible. Since women couldn’t vote in the first place, how could they exert influence on public policy, to the very extreme point of demanding constitutional change? Why should elected officials care what the women wanted? But the suffragettes wouldn’t shut up, and kept the idea on the public agenda, with the result that the idea seemed less preposterous with each passing year, and ultimately it became a politically possible reform. Let’s initiate that kind of process with respect to the Senate, and see where it leads.
I repeat: What good is the Senate? Why do we need a two-house Congress? Give me a reason! (One that hasn’t already been mentioned on this thread.)
Broomstiock has got it absolutely right. The Sanate is to afford the smaller states equal protection under the constitution. The house was made so that all of the people are represented. You must have both (House and Senate) for Congress to be fair and equal, regardless of the size of the state, the number of its people, the color of their skin, what they believe in or their sex.
Unlike what John Mace suggested, the federal govt has not grown beyond what our constitutional framers had envisioned. As a metter of fact, its coming alog as they planned it. They made the constitution a living document. It grows with the nation. As each new generation comes with its own set of unique and never before seen problems, the constitution is supplimented to meet the challenge. The size and power of the present day federal govt is what is right for this present population. The constitutional framers knew this was going to happen and planned ahead for it.
I should also emphasize that this debate has nothing to do with states’ rights, or federalism, versus centralization of power in the federal government. We can abolish the Senate without touching the present constitutional status of the states, or changing their political functions in any way, and without increasing the powers and functions of the federal government beyond their current level. Changing our federal system in any fundamental way would require a constitutional amendment – a very different amendment than one which would abolish the Senate.
Now, if you think abolishing the Senate and moving to a one-house Congress might LEAD to the erosion of the states’ role, or a growth in federal power, or a constitutional amendment that would abolish the states or reduce their importance – or, conversely, that it might lead to a constitutional amendment that would reduce the federal government’s role and devolve more power to the states – now that would be relevant to this discussion, and I would like to read your thoughts on why this is a possibility. And on whether it would be a good or a bad thing. In view of the tone of several posts above, I respectfully and specifically request that you propose any ideas you have on these lines straightforwardly, without irony or sarcasm.
X~Slayer(ALE) wrote, “The Sanate is to afford the smaller states equal protection under the constitution.” So what? That might have made since in 1787 when there were only 13 states, and they sometimes thought of themselves as being in competition with each other, and there was a fear that populous states like Virginia might dominate the others. It has no relevant to our present circumstance, where we have 50 states, and no state or conceivable coalition of states would be in a position to try to dominate the Union and put its own regional priorities ahead of all the rest. We don’t NEED the Senate in order to afford equal protection to the smaller states.
Do you honestly believe that the framers of the constitution envisioned a national speed limit (if the had known about cars) or drinking age? While these aren’t explicity laws, they demonstrate the reach of the federal gov’t into matters of everyday life that has the framers, in my view, rolling over in their graves. No?
The framers were very careful to build in lots of checks and balances. They were very much concerned with one branch or one group of people dominating the other. You have the benefit, but also the blind spot, of not seeing what might happen when power is concentrated in one area. I like a gov’t that has lots of speed bumps. Think of it this way: Do you believe our problem is that we don’t have ENOUGH laws? Is the tax code NOT complicated enough? Taking away speed bumps is likely to add more complexity. If you think laws can be easily corrected, think how many tax code additions have ever been repealed. It’s not at all clear to me that the Senate has gotten in the way of repealing the needless complexities in the law.
And you might not see it as a state’s rights issue, but I sure do. The framers knew that state’s rights would be whittled away if they weren’t specifically protected by the very structrure of the gov’t. Again, it depends on your vision of America. You see a couintry that is, incidentally, divided into states. I see a country of sovereign states that have, with some reluctance, given up a certain amount of autonomy to a federal gov’t.
Only disagreement I have with this point is that you need to add “Twice” – one amendment to remove the clause at the end of Article V of the original Constitution that protects each state by requiring “equal Suffrage in the Senate,” and then one to abolish the Senate. Unless you want to construe that no Senate means that each state has zero Senators, and is therefore equal – a semantic point that would not hold water in terms of political reality.
At science-fiction conventions I’ve sometime seen a message-button, probably Libertarian in inspiration, that says, “The United States Constitution has it’s faults, but it’s a hell of a lot better than what we’ve got now.” It’s a clever slogan, but it’s a lie. The truth is, the United States Constitution is a hell of a lot worse than what we’ve got now, as anyone can see who looks clearly at the Constitution’s history and at our present situation.
Except for radical Federalists such as Hamilton, the Framers never imagined that a strong, activist federal government would be necessary. They lived in an agrarian society where government was mainly a matter of keeping public order and not much else. But times have changed. Today a strong, activist national government IS necessary. No modern industrialized state, with the possible exception of Switzerland, has found a way to do without one and still remain competitive in the world.
But we’re getting sidetracked again. As I said above, the present division of powers between the federal and state governments, the arrangement we have grown used to whether it’s constitutional or not, can be preserved without leaving the Senate in place. If you think it cannot be so preserved, please explain why.
Why IS a strong, activist gov’t necessary? Societies have a tendancy to concentrate power at the top unless they are specifically structured not to. I would submit that modern industrial states have emerged in spite of concentrated power, not because of it. Look at China. It stagnated until power (economic decisions) was returned more to the local level rather than kept at the highest level.
Yes, John, in recent decades some unitary states have started to decentralize for various reasons – notably Britain and France – but not to the point where any of them is likely to end up where the U.S. started, with hardly any national government to speak of. Furthermore, strong, activist government is not the same thing as concentration of a society’s power “at the top” – a phrase which implies rule by a dominant social class, not by national government as an organization. In the antebellum South, all power was concentrated “at the top,” in the hands of a small white landowning aristocracy. Government can be and often has been a weapon the people can use to PREVENT power from getting concentrated “at the top.”
Furthermore, in the modern world a strong, activist national government is necessary to set industrial policy and countless other things. Do you think our interstate highway system could have been built by the kind of government the Framers intended? No way. Nor could it have been built by an association of state governments or a consortium of private investors. There are some things we need that only biggumment can provide.
I am impressed by the level of interest this thread has generated in just a few hours, but nobody has yet addressed the core of my argument: The Senate should be abolished because a one-house Congress, while having no broader constitutional powers than Congress has now, would in effect be more efficient in its decision-making, and therefore would be much stronger AS AGAINST THE PRESIDENCY, and we need that. Does anyone care to comment on this point?