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Sen. Harkin Moves to Bring Democracy to America

January 22, 2010

After 235 years, democracy may finally be coming to America.

As I gestured earlier in the week, the Senate is a staggeringly undemocratic body. The combination of the filibuster and the allocation of two senators to a state regardless of population gives representatives of less than 37% of America the power to block legislation that the rest of the country wants. This leads to the over-representation of small, rural states and the under-representation of large, urban states. Unfair outcomes abound: California gets about 80 cents for every dollar while every Alaskan gets $4,000 a year for doing nothing. The Senate as currently composed has no place in a country that calls itself a democracy, especially as it currently functions. The abolition of the filibuster would restore democracy in the United States.

It appears, however, that different people and organizations are taking up the cause. A few weeks ago the New York Times ran an op-ed calling for the abolition of the filibuster and today the Huffington Post reports that Senator Harkin of Iowa (D) has sent a letter to his Senate colleagues announcing his intention to introduce legislation that would essentially disarm the filibuster, leaving it as a mechanism that can delay but not block bills. Sen. Harkin has a good deal of credibility on the issue as he introduced similar legislation when the Democrats were in the minority. As the Huff Post explains it, a filibuster reform bill would need two-thirds of the chamber to be enacted as it requires an amendment to Senate Rules, a hurdle that would likely be impossible considering the Republicans inability to look further into the future than lunchtime. I have read elsewhere, however, that a simple majority could institute this change, an unlikely scenario but possible.

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