PA Deserves an Equal Vote in U.S. Senate; Shelve That 'National Popular Vote' Stuff until We Get It

(Cross-posted at Daily Kos)

(ADDED NOTE: Philadelphia -- population more than 1.4 million -- has less of a voice in the U.S. Senate than the entire state of Wyoming, population 522,000. Fair? No. Democratic with a little "d"? No.)

OK, so we just had the electoral college vote Monday, and some may be saying, "Hey, what about that National Popular Vote idea?" The Progressive States Network, which I respect, is even going for the argument that the electoral college killed the auto bailout because Republicans thought Michigan's electoral votes are out of reach for them. I disagree.

Besides the potential for chaos with having to recount every single precinct throughout the nation if there's a close election, I don't see the advantage of shifting to the NPV for my swing state of Pennsylvania, for example. (Keep reading, Californians and New Yorkers -- I'm trying to help you, too. :-) And frankly, I think there's a much bigger injustice to U.S. democracy that needs to be fixed first (or at least tied to NPV -- call it a "grand bargain" if you want -- it would be a win-win for progressives).

Every state gets the same number of U.S. senators -- two. And since we no longer think of ourselves primarily as a collection of states, but as one nation, a change often attributed to the Civil War. The United States are" vs. "The United States is.") So a key rationale for Alaska getting the same number of senators as New York is gone.

This is much more of a policy problem than a process one. It has real-world consequences. As David Sirota reported last year, "consider what followed a July CBS News/New York Times poll that found 69 percent of Americans support Congress either enacting a timetable for troop withdrawals from Iraq or defunding the war completely. When the Senate voted on timetable legislation that month, 47 senators voted 'no'" — enough to filibuster. Should we be surprised that a policy supported by more than two thirds of America drew opposition from almost half of the Senate? No, not when we consider the math."

So did the electoral college kill the auto bailout in the Senate? Not likely. For one thing, 10 Republicans voted with most of the Democrats.

Here are a few other ways the small-state Senate has blocked good policy or come whisker-close to blocking it.
The Clinton 1993 economic plan only passed the Senate with VP Gore breaking the tie, and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act fell just one vote short in the Senate in 1996 (that's the bill that would make it illegal nationwide to fire someone just for being gay -- the more inclusive version covers sexual orientation *and* gender identity, but that's a whole other topic).

Those are just three examples off the top of my head. (OK, one more -- would a Senate more representative of the country have kept Joe Lieberman as chairman of... ANYTHING?)

According to 2007 census estimates, the most populated state -- California -- has nearly 70 times (69.9) the population of the least populated state, Wyoming. But each gets only two senators. Yep, Wyoming residents' votes for Senate count about 70 times as much as Californians'. (It's been 32 years since Wyoming had a Democrat in the Senate, and 20 years since the state even came close to having one. Yes, the 50-state strategy is valid, but that doesn't mean Wyoming residents should get 70 times as much influence in the U.S. Senate as Californians. Or almost 24 times as much as Pennsylvanians.) (Utah hasn't had a Democratic senator since 1976 either.)

Combine that with the filibuster and you get a HARD tilt to the right in the Senate that threatens to dilute or brake progressive initiatives even when you get the trifecta we have now -- which isn't guaranteed to last, as much as we hope so -- a Democratic president and a solidly Democratic Senate and House.

California sends Barbara Boxer to the Senate. Oklahoma has just 10 percent of that population and sends... Jim Inhofe. I want a Senate where we have a lot more Boxers to outvote the Inhofes and break the Inhofes' filibusters.

So, non-swing state and small-state voters in Wyoming, Utah, etc., if you want Pennsylvania (and California) to give up our outsized influence (AFTER the primaries) in choosing the president, then you need to be fair to us by making the Senate a lot more representative.

And, by the way, Californians and New Yorkers (and Texans), if you pass National Popular Vote (thinking "hey, now the presidential candidates will care about us in the fall, too!") -- *without* getting more of a voice in the Senate, then you will have lost a rare opportunity to fix the un-representative Senate. Fortunately (in my view), NPV hasn't gotten very far yet.

There are any number of ways to make the Senate more representative, such as --
-- Keep the current size of 100 senators and leave the smallest states with 1 senator instead of 2 and divide up the "extra" seats among the states that are most under-represented in the Senate.
-- Or we could expand it to 150, or maybe 145, which is one-third of the voting membership of the House -- and adjust the senators' salaries to 2/3 of current level or something.
-- Or we could keep the same number of seats and give the senators 2 or however many votes each to match their states' population, etc.

I'd LIKE to see the end result be as close as possible to "one person, one vote," the legal standard of fairness which applies to the STATE senates. But in the end, compromise might require settling for more proportionality in the Senate than we have now. (Still better than no positive change!)

(Side note #1: The District of Columbia has more population than Wyoming -- 12.5 percent more! -- but no voting representation in the House OR Senate. Whether the solution is providing DC two Senate seats of its own or letting it vote in Maryland's Senate races, DC voters deserve a voice in the Senate too. There's at least one diary today that relates to this: Stop disenfranchising DC voters)

(Side note #2: If we're going to tackle unfairness -- how about fixing the presidential caucus/primary process? Pennsylvanians and most of the country outside of Iowa, New Hampshire and a couple other states are usually frozen out, and do we really want every state moving its primary or caucus earlier and earlier, until they end up in December, then the November a year before the D vs. R election, and so on...)

Look, I see the merits of the long-standing idea that the Senate should act as the "saucer" that cools the hot legislation boiling over from the more responsive House. And even if the Senate becomes more representative of the population of this country, the "saucer" role would be preserved by the facts that the Senate's members are elected to 6-year terms, only one-third are facing the voters in a given election cycle, and that the filibuster will probably still be around.

It's past time to enact some kind of population proportionality in the U.S. Senate, so that 41 senators who only represent 11 percent of the population (if that!) would no longer be able to hold up good progressive legislation the majority of the country wants. If we REALLY want all votes to count equally, then states like Pennsylvania and Ohio and California should get their appropriate share of Senate seats or votes instead of having people in Utah or Alabama or Alaska essentially outvoting them. That ought to be tied to the national popular vote thing, and I am not that interested in NPV until then.

And if we can only make one of these a priority, let's fix the Senate first -- making the Senate more representative would also make the electoral college more representative since a state's electoral votes are its number of senators plus its number of House members. But passing National Popular Vote without fixing the Senate doesn't address the un-representative nature of the Senate. And speaking of picking the president, check out how many residents per electoral vote each state has.)

Let's end what David Sirota calls the tyranny of the minority!

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