Fixing the Dysfunctional Senate

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Yesterday I posted a blog topic regarding an idea I have about how to repair the dysfunction in the Senate. In a nutshell, the idea is to base the cloture vote (vote to end a filibuster) not on the undemocratic method of requiring a super majority of senators but rather by basing cloture on a method that gives each senator a certain percentage of the total vote according to the percentage of population that the particular senator represents. I believe that this method would be so much more succesful and representative that I suspect the supermajority requirement could even be raised from the 3/5ths it is now to a 2/3rds majority requirement and still be a more expedient method. The way that rules currently operate means that senators representing just a sliver of the overall population (as little as 12%) can dictate the terms of debate for the entire country. This method would apply only to the cloture vote and not the actual vote on any given matter, thus preserving the original intent behind creating a body in which each state's interests are represented by the same two votes. In my opinion this would go a long ways toward making the Senate both more democratic and more expedient. The full blog post is here:

I'd like to get feedback on this notion.

mdhess's picture
Apr. 9, 2010 11:43 pm


A single Parliament solves the bicameral problem. The idea that the big and little states define the differences that matter is not true. Without corporate cash, representatives would be interested in what we needed; and what we really need is not that different in urban or rural setting. We could diversify geographically and find more localized and artisanal production as "industrial" finds its niche. But healthcare, education, food, housing and good infrastructure are our common interests with specific local factors. We can govern ourselves if we have to, and we have to.

I think the Senate is fundamentally flawed in concept, and its inner mechanisms and rules are only slightly less toxic to democracy than the usurper Supreme Court. I would get rid of both, leaving only a high court to rule on judicial issues, not legislation.

DRC's picture
Jul. 31, 2007 4:01 pm

Yes, indeed. These are good ideas.

It would be a progressive change if the next amendment to the tired, out-dated U.S. Constitution was:

To abolish the Senate from existance and have a one house representational body.

The following amendment:

To abolish the perverted, partisan Supreme Court......Justice is not partisan.....The misguided notion that the U.S. Constitution is some infallible, eternal document is the main flaw of this U.S. Courthouse "built on sand".

jcgood1984's picture
Aug. 3, 2011 10:17 am

That's really easy to say but the fact is that we are governed according to the constitution that we have and so unless you are advocating out and out revolution to throw out the whole thing and start from scratch I don't see that your suggestions are particularly helpful. I agree that parliamentary forms are an improvement but we don't operate under one.

mdhess's picture
Apr. 9, 2010 11:43 pm

Simple solution. Repeal the 17th Amendment. There are 50 states with EQUAL representation in the Senate. Prior to the 17th Amendment the Governor of the state nominated their representation. This takes all the money out of the election and prevents the other 49 states from influencing a single state. Look at Scott Brown in Mass. The MAJORITY of his contributions came from OUTSIDE of Mass.

I live in Virginia and we NEVER ratified the 17th Amendment and have to pay the price now. We have Republican Governor, Republican State House, and Two Democratic Senators! Worse than that, over 70% of the people in Virginia were against Obamacare and our two Senators voted FOR it! Who did they represent? Regardless of your views on Obamacare they obviously did NOT represent the state and were more loyal to their part then their constituents. Now Virginia gets to spend our money on lawsuits to prevent a bill our Senators voted for.

Let the Governors pick their Senators. Get the money out of the Senate elections. Make them accountable to their states and their constituents and NOT their party or the money!

occupy hell
Oct. 25, 2011 12:48 pm

The original post is a very good idea. The idea that California and Hawaii both get 2 Senators may be antiquated, but I still think it makes sense to have Senators face the voters less frequently than the House Representatives, But I would change the terms from 6 years to 4.

Jul. 31, 2007 4:01 pm

The way that rules currently operate means that senators representing just a sliver of the overall population (as little as 12%) can dictate the terms of debate for the entire country.
It's actually smaller than that. WY population 500,000 means one senator represents 250,000. 250,000 as a percent of 310,000,000 is .08 % That is 8 100ths of 1 %, yet he can put a hold and stop all legislation.
as a fraction it is 1/1200th

douglaslee's picture
Jul. 31, 2007 4:01 pm

everyone keeps talking like we are a demacratic goverment but we arent and were not set up to be one by our founding fathers, but instead we are a representative republic ( wich as someone said before unless you plan a revolution its not changing, I do aggree that a repeal of the 17th amendment is a good start

freedom from gov's picture
freedom from gov
Oct. 25, 2011 3:18 pm

It's not clear to me how letting governors appoint senators will remove the corrupting influence of corporate money from the senate and make the senators more accountable to the voters (consider the governors of Wisconsin, Ohio, etc. for example having this power). So far, I have been under the (apparently naive) impression that it was more democratic to allow the voters to just vote directly for the senator.

Under this proposal, I can, however, see how the senator would certainly be accountable to the governor, though. In the interest of simplicity, efficiency and economy, then why not just do away with the senate altogether and let the state governors function in their place ?

Consider a congress consisting of a House of Representatives and a House of Governors.

How would that be better/worse than what we have now ?

Oct. 14, 2011 9:30 am

If they fixed it - what would they use as an excuse for failing to undo the undoing of America?

Quote mdhess:

... I suspect the supermajority requirement could even be raised from the 3/5ths it is now to a 2/3rds majority requirement and still be a more expedient method.

That would take it back to the way it was before it got changed back at the end of the 1940's.

There's a lot of good history on the whats and whys in Senate Hearing 111-706 report [Examing the Filibuster] which is, of course, 666 pages long.

The already available methodology is recapped concisely at the top of page 30 (40th page of report). Which shows what could have been done, but was not done both at the beginning of 2009 and again at the beginning of 2011 (after having just seen the result of having not done it at the beginning of 2009).

While incompetence/overconfidence can be claimed for the 2009 non-action - the non-action in 2011 reveals the sham of them.

Rodger97321's picture
Jul. 31, 2007 4:01 pm

I think the first thing that needs to be done to improve government is getting rid of electronic voting. You don't hear much about that anymore...wonder why?

When you look around this country and see many of the idiots that are currently in ofiice the first thing that comes to my mind is there is no way in hell that anyone with a functioning brain would vote for those morons....

Make every election use paper ballots and when electing a new pres make it a 3 day event....friday, sat and sun.....Give people the time to vote instead of a one day affair.

I'd bet my life their isn't one repuke in this country that would go for my ideas and I know why they wouldn't.

Sprinklerfitter's picture
Sep. 1, 2011 6:49 am

There's a 1 in 20 Chance of the Apocalypse. Shouldn't We Act Now?

A new study published in Science argues that we as a civilization need to move "rapidly" -- as in almost immediately -- towards a carbon emissions free future if we are to have any chance of holding off runaway global warming:

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