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10.2% of the population can filibuster the other 89.8%


Gail Collins joins the anti-filibuster ranks today, and brings some numbers.

U.S. population: 307,006,550.

Population for the 20 least-populated states: 31,434,822.

That means that in the Senate, all it takes to stop legislation is one guy plus 40 senators representing 10.2 percent of the country.

In practice, the filibuster isn't used by a coalition of tiny states representing 10.2% of the population. But it could be! And that's a reminder that the Senate is already undemocratic. Adding the supermajority requirement is like sprinkling tacks on a road that's already filled with potholes.

Photo credit: Bill O'Leary/TWP.

By Ezra Klein  |  January 15, 2010; 11:03 AM ET
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the founders assumed that a majority in the senate would be sufficient; otherwise, they wouldn't have assigned a tie-breaking vote to the vice president in the first place.

Posted by: howard16 | January 15, 2010 11:09 AM | Report abuse

This is a log jam. Skewing from simple majority to 60/40 indicates possibility of great pressure behind log jam. Results of log jam are;
1) Catastrophic failure and downstream deluge.
2) Upstream flooding while jam persists.
3) injury to those working on/around the log jam.
While you may dismiss the analogy, mark my words. A previous idealogic log jam resulted in a civil war. Bad actors of the same ilk are at it again.

Posted by: BertEisenstein | January 15, 2010 11:42 AM | Report abuse

C'mon, Ezra, you're smarter than this. Let's try a different version (using US Census population estimates from July 2008):

U.S. population: 304, 060, 000

Population for the 26 least-populated states: 49,934,000

That means that in the Senate, all it takes to stop legislation is 52 senators representing 16% of the country.

Dumb, dumb, dumb. Gail Collins ought to be ashamed of herself, and you should be ashamed for falling for it.

Posted by: ezra_reader | January 15, 2010 11:44 AM | Report abuse

That's why this line was included:
"And that's a reminder that the Senate is already undemocratic."
The 60 vote requirement takes the lower bound from 16% to 10%, that's extra-un-demrocratic-y. And the ridiculousness of the number is good to point out.

Posted by: etdean1 | January 15, 2010 12:13 PM | Report abuse

'ezra_reader' you are right, but I think you are missing the point or context here.

For a while Ezra and discussion on this blog has been the end goal - to have Senate which literally represents American people in 'proportion' like House. This post is - even if we get Filibuster reforms, unless we reach the end goal we will continue to have a serious problem with Senate.

So Ezra, where is my Revolution? Now that many folks on Tea Party side already talking about 'ballot box or bullet box' and kind of blessing these violent means, I suppose it is okay for us to adopt violent means to straighten out Senate?

Well, on record I do not intend to prescribe or advocate any such 'law breaking' behavior to attain political change.

But our problem of non-representational Senate remains and we need serious people's movement for that. For obvious structural reasons, existing political parties or White House are unlikely to take this issue (you have both party Senators from smaller states). They even do not talk about it!

More I think I am coming to realization that it will need to be a resistance along the line how Dr. King did - to persuade people of morality / justice basis. That seems to be only hope for someone to argue in front of 10 folks of North Dakota about how it is right for California to decide (and take responsibility) on large representation basis. Looking back, otherwise what was the reason for majority Whites to give up the privileged position from where exploitation of blacks was bringing them wealth?

Yah (sighs), I am day dreaming here... Nothing will happen, come next decade, we will be just despairing in this country same way but by then substantial damage will done to our polity.

Posted by: umesh409 | January 15, 2010 12:35 PM | Report abuse

ezra_reader, you're right, but you're missing the point. The point is that the Senate is nearly twice as undemocratic as it would be without the filibuster.

The ideal Senate would have the same number of members as the House, from the same districts, but with elections every six (or more) years instead of every two.

Unfortunately, changing the structure of the Senate is a structural impossibility. The only way it will happen is a constitutional convention, which would bring huge problems of its own.

Posted by: dal20402 | January 15, 2010 12:46 PM | Report abuse

If only the Senate were more like the house, health care reform would have passed by more than 1 vote.

Wait . . .

Posted by: steve10c | January 15, 2010 2:52 PM | Report abuse

Hee hee. Ezra, how did you feel about majority rule in the Senate in 2005? How ya gonna feel in 2011? In 2013? Just remember, what's sauce for the Dems will be sauce for the Repubs sooner than you think.

Posted by: bgmma50 | January 15, 2010 9:28 PM | Report abuse

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