“No government, any more than an individual, will long be respected without being truly respectable; nor be truly respectable, without possessing a certain portion of order and stability.” James Madison, Federalist No. 62.
This essay is about democratic principles, or lack thereof, in the current United States Senate’s passage of a hurried and horrible tax bill.
After the Senate vote last week approving the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act,” I tallied the votes and compared them to the populations of the states represented on each side of the vote.
This broke into three categories: (1) states where both senators voted “yes,” (2) those where both voted “no” and (3) those where senators were split and the state’s two votes offset, or cancelled, each other.
Based on this analysis, only 31% of the total US population was represented by “yes” votes for a bill that will have wide-ranging impact on the economy and culture of the whole US population for years to come. By contrast, 45% of US population was represented in clear “no” votes against the bill.
Of course the Senate was meant to be representative of the States, not the people; but this seems a violation of the spirit, if not the letter, of the Constitution.
The framers intended the Senate to be a careful, deliberative body, to counter the transitory inexperience and “passions” of the House of Representatives, where membership can annually shift in large numbers. Accordingly, Senators have longer terms than any other officer in the legislative and executive branches and Senate elections are staggered every two years in thirds.
James Madison, in Federalist No. 62, described this expectation for the Senate:
“The necessity of a senate is not less indicated by the propensity of all single and numerous assemblies to yield to the impulse of sudden and violent passions, and to be seduced by factious leaders into intemperate and pernicious resolutions. . . . All that need be remarked is, that a body which is to correct this infirmity ought itself to be free from it, and consequently ought to be less numerous. It ought, moreover, to possess great firmness, and consequently ought to hold its authority by a tenure of considerable duration.”
Equal Senate votes for each of the states was rationalized as an offset to the proportional representation in the House, but this was also an important compromise to obtain the smaller states’ approval of the Constitution.
Today, the effects of this compromise are exploited by a Republican-controlled Congress, and its effects are heightened by demographic shifts that now have the largest state (California) with a population nearly 7,000% larger than the smallest state (Wyoming), while both have equal voting power in the Senate.
California voted “no” and Wyoming voted “yes” for the tax bill. California will suffer the greater impact, yet California’s Senators were effectively ignored in a partisan process that was controlled by the Senators from Republican-dominated, smaller states, including Idaho.
Interim solutions to this problem would require a recognition of this unfairness; respect and collegiality among Senators from both large and small states; willingness to seek solutions that serve the whole country and not just individual states; and, taming of the hyper-partisanship that has members of one party refusing collaboration and thoughtful input from others. In short, it requires thoughtful return to the original purpose of the Senate described by Hamilton: order, stability and “great firmness.”
Otherwise, the Senate is an alarming, oxymoronic majority of the minority moving in partisan lockstep with a Republican-controlled House–as demonstrated by its passing a bill in such a short time, under pressure for a “victory,” with a series of rationalizations that have neither factual nor economic basis.
There have been no extensive hearings or debates and an unprecedented rejection of bi-partisan economic analysis that pegs the resulting budget deficit at $1.0 trillion or more.
For these reasons, our Senators should shed the shackles of party affiliation, shoulder their leadership role and slow down the tax reform process.
With so much at stake–including loss of healthcare for millions, deterioration of the separation of church and state, threatened environmental destruction and ballooning of the national debt–all Americans should insist on this and take to the streets, if necessary, to make ourselves heard.