It’s hard to see the U.S. Senate as a democratic institution in the 21st century. A voter from Wyoming has nearly seventy times the representation as a citizen from California. And that understates the case significantly because on top of that lop-sided balance, the Senate also has rules that call for super-majorities, giving those small states even more power.
Alan Durning from the Sightline Institute made this point a couple of years ago when he wrote: “The Senate doesn’t just magnify small-states’ influence a little. It magnifies their power massively. Consider the Cascadia region, which covers all of Idaho, Oregon, and Washington, plus parts of Alaska, California, Montana, and Wyoming (along with the Canadian province of British Columbia). Each of these states, of course, has equal representation in the US Senate. This chart shows the number of people per US Senator in these states. There are 18 million Californians for each of the state’s two Senators. In Wyoming, the equivalent number is 272,000. If every US Senator represented the same number of people as do Wyoming’s two Senators, Oregon would have 14 Senators.That’s right, Oregon would have 14 Senators! Washington, for its part, would have 24, far outnumbering its current 9 Representatives in the House.California? California would have 136.”
Now calculate those numbers for Indian Country. The Census says there are 5.1 million American Indians and Alaska Natives in the U.S. So, using the same formula of 272,00, there would be at least 18 Native American representatives in the Senate.
Don’t like that formula? Well, the collective land mass of tribal nations, villages, and communities, tops 87,000 square miles. That’s a larger land base than most states (the average for the 50 states is only 75,881.66 square miles).
Later today we’ll find out if the Senate is going to take even baby steps to limit filibuster (now at the point where a Senator only has to threaten a filibuster to stop legislation unless there are 60 votes).
But on the issue of austerity, the irony is that the Senate represents the best hope going forward for a balanced approach to how budgets are cut.
Congressional budgets are a relatively modern enterprise. Before the 1970s, the federal budget was presented by the President and then Congress passed appropriation bills for each agency. (more…)