Our Undemocratic Senate

It’s a cliche to talk about how undemocratic the U.S. Senate is, with it’s filibusters and non-proportional representation. But I think the recent cloture vote on the the Lilly Ledbetter Act highlights this fact pretty acutely, and is worth exploring a bit.

To recap, the bill was:

named for an Alabama woman who lost a case against the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company when the court found she not did file her complaint in time. Ms. Ledbetter had been paid as much as 40 percent less than her male counterparts doing the same job, according to her allies.

It was intended to remedy a 5-4 Supreme Court decision that threw out her case because the statute of limitations had run out (she didn’t realize how much less she was getting paid until it was too late).

So the bill passes the House, and goes to the Senate, where 60 votes are needed to cut off debate, as we all know. The cloture vote is 56-42, with weak-kneed “principled, mavericky” Republicans Hagel and McCain conveniently skipping the vote.

But just for a moment, let’s take a look at the 56 Senators who voted “yea.” They collectively represent 181 million Americans, or just over 60% of the country (assume that in D/R divided states each Senator represents half the population).

So, to recap: it passes the democratic (small-d) House, it gets the support of 60% of America from Senators representing 34 of the 50 states, and yet the bill fails. Staggering. And don’t forget the fact that the public, bless their hearts, put Democrats back in charge of the country in 2006 because they wanted more of the things that Democrats wanted.

To be sure, it would have been vetoed by the President. And also to be sure, had the filibuster not been in place the last five years, we’d be drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge right now. Still, on balance the filibuster is a small-c conservative instrument. It’s designed to keep America from doing stuff. And that means that in the long run, it will tend to be a large-C Conservative instrument. Time to abolish it.