The U.S. Senate Rules, in my opinion, are an embarrassing blot on our democracy.
Just this week two Senators, Democrat Carl Levin and Republican Lamar Alexander, agreed that the Senate was “dysfunctional, gridlocked and broken.” They pointed out that the current Senate Rules require, at most steps of the legislative process, agreement from all 100 senators; absent unanimous agreement, the Rules entail a time-consuming process that requires a supermajority of 60 senators to move forward.
Levin and Alexander then proposed a revised rule that would allow the majority leader to bring a bill to the floor for a vote without the 60-vote process on condition that the bill would be open to all relevant amendments, but not to non-relevant amendments.
Any change to the Senate Rules to reduce or eliminate the ability of one Senator to block consideration of important matters is better than none. But this proposed change is too miniscule as is true for other suggested reforms on this subject in recent years.
Instead I advocate more significant changes.
- First, the Senate should operate by majority rule except where the Constitution requires a supermajority (two-thirds) vote for (a) overriding a presidential veto or (b) consenting to the ratification of treaties or (c) proposing constitutional amendments or (d) expelling a member.
- Second, the Senate should have weighted voting so that a Senator from a more populous state would have more clout than a Senator from a sparsely populated state. For example, a Senator from Wyoming (the least populous state) would have one vote while a Senator from California (the most populous state) would have 66 votes.
Such significant changes would recognize that in a democracy the wishes of the majority of the people should be the fundamental governing principle (except when the Constitution otherwise provides) and that our primary allegiance is as U.S. citizens, not citizens of 50 states.