by Charles Lemos, Mon Jul 26, 2010 at 12:57:55 AM EDT
Highlighting the serial and continuing abuse of the Senate's byzantine to begin with rules by an obstructionist GOP, Senator Harry Reid noted that he's looking at ways to change the procedural rules that govern the Senate. Speaking at Netroots Nation over the weekend, Senator Reid bemoaned the delaying tactics employed by the Republicans whose modus operandi might be described simply thus: "to delay is to derail."
The story in The Hill:
[Senate Majority Leader] Reid said that while Democrats were still looking at options as to how they would change the filibuster, Republicans' use of the rules to force a 60-vote majority on most items before the Senate meant that a change was needed.
"This Republican Senate has started abusing the rules, so we're going to have to change it," Reid told liberal bloggers assembled in Las Vegas for the "Netroots Nation" conference.
"We do not have a plan fully developed yet, but we're looking at ways to change it," Reid said.
Frustration at the Senate rules and the frequent gridlock Republicans have been able to force peppered Reid's remarks to the bloggers. The top Senate Democrat defended his party's work in the Senate the past year and a half, but acknowledged that they might have been able to have been more ambitious in the pace and scope of their legislative agenda if not for Republicans.
"Suddenly, 60 is the new 51," he said, noting the new standard for legislation.
Senate rules allow individual members to filibuster a legislation -- in essence, continuing debate indefinitely -- unless 60 votes can be found to move to a final vote. Democrats control 59 seats, meaning at least one Republican is needed to advance a bill.
Reid noted that Democrats for a time enjoyed a 60-vote majority that should have allowed them to advance a number of priorities, but the majority leader argued that it was short-lived.
"Remember, we only had 60 votes for a matter of a few weeks," he explained, noting the delay in swearing in Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) and the death of Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) last August. "60 votes was a very fleeting time in history in this country. But we did a lot of time during that period."
Still, a rules change would be difficult for Democrats to manage if they keep their majority after this year's midterm elections, in which Republicans are expected to make gains. Senate rules require 67 votes just to change the rules, meaning that a number of GOP senators would have to sign on to an effort that would undercut one of their most useful tactics as a minority party.
Reform of the Senate's rules, and in particular an amelioration of the filibuster, is a welcomed development. Still the greater problem is a design flaw that over-represents rural conservative interests and resolving that problem requires a Constitutional amendment that frankly that of as now is simply inconceivable. But even as the solution may escape us, the problem is real and growing by the day. Urban America's hopes for a more progressive nation are thwarted by an ever more conservative rural America even as urban America's numbers grow and rural America's numbers dwindle.
The 26 least populous states in the country who form a majority in the Senate represent just 17.8 percent of the nation's population according to the 2000 US Census. While these 26 include states like Vermont, Delaware and Rhode Island, of the 26 least populous states 15 voted for McCain and 11 for Obama in 2008 but if we go back to 2004 then 19 of these 26 states voted for Bush versus just eight for Kerry (OR, CT, RI, ME, VT, HA, NH, DE). The most populous of these 26 states is Colorado and the least is Wyoming with the bulk of the states being a mixture of Southern, Prairie, Mountain West/Far West or New England states. Of these four regions, three are overwhelmingly rural and conservative and account for 20 of the 26 states. The United States is not the only country with a legislative body that over-represents rural interests. Thailand and Japan have the same problem and not surprisingly suffer from many of the same problems that we do.
As the Republican Party is favored by rural and conservative interests, it too is overrepresented in the Senate though not to the extreme shown above. The GOP has 40 Senators at the moment but those seats represent just a fraction above 35 percent of the US population. Still that's an over-representation of 5 Senate seats, not an insignificant number in a hundred member body.