What is the point on the Senate?
“I made a case last night to about ten freshman senators, you know, you want to turn this into a unicameral body? What’s the point of having a Senate? If the vote margins are the same as in the House, you might as well close the doors,” Dodd told reporters in the Capitol.
It's worth reminding people of what, exactly, the point of having a Senate was:
Hallowed as it is, the Senate is as much a product of bare-knuckled, self-interested politics as last week's fight over military earmarks. In Philadelphia in 1787, the smaller states favored the New Jersey Plan -- one chamber with equal representation per state -- while James Madison argued for two chambers, both apportioned by population, which would benefit his Virginia.
The delegates finally settled on the Connecticut Compromise, or the Great Compromise. Seats in the lower chamber would be apportioned by population (with some residents counting more than others, of course) while seats in the upper chamber would be awarded two per state. The idea was to safeguard states' rights at a time when the former colonies were still trying to get used to this new country of theirs. But the big/small divide was nothing like what we have today. Virginia, the biggest of the original 13 states, had 538,000 people in 1780, or 12 times as many people as the smallest state, Delaware.
And that Senate didn't have the filibuster:
In 1805, Aaron Burr has just killed Alexander Hamilton. He comes back to the Senate and gives his farewell address. Burr basically says that you are a great body. You are conscientious and wise, you do not give in to the whims of passion. But your rules are a mess. And he goes through the rulebook pointing out duplicates and things that are unclear.
Among his suggestions was to drop the previous question motion. And they pretty much just take Burr's advice. And once it's gone, it takes some time for leaders to realize that they can't cut off debate anymore. But the striking part to me was that we say the Senate developed the filibuster to protect minorities and the right to debate. That's hogwash! It's a mistake. Believe me, I would've loved to find the smoking gun where the Senate decides to create a deliberative body. But it takes years before anyone figures out that the filibuster has just been created.
The question we need to be asking is, "What is the point of a Senate governed by the exact rules we're looking at today, and does that make more or less sense than a Senate governed by some other set of rules?"
Photo credit: Melina Mara/The Washington Post.
August 5, 2010; 2:10 PM ET
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