The Black Hole Option: Abolish the Senate

  • Bob Fertik's picture
    Bob Fertik
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Unlike other progressive bloggers, I wasn't the least bit surprised when Senate Democrats let Joe Lieberman keep his Homeland Security chair. Why? Because the last eight years of blogging have painfully taught me that all Senate Democrats are worthless. (My only real surprise was that 13 Democratic "mavericks" voted against Joltin' Joe.)

I first learned this lesson on January 6, 2001, when the Senate and House met in joint session to count the Electoral College votes from the 2000 election. worked closely with the Congressional Black Caucus, led by Rep. Alcee Hastings of Florida, to challenge Florida's 25 electors as illegitimate because 175,000 votes were never counted due to the Felonious Five on the Supreme Court.

The event was made famous by Michael Moore in Fahrenheit 911. Hastings filed his legal challenge as planned. But under the law, he had to be joined by one - just one - Senator. And despite our heroic efforts, not a single Democratic Senator was willing to join the Congressional Black Caucus in their challenge. CBC Members rose in turn to second Hastings' motion, but they were all ruled out of order by outgoing Vice President Al Gore because no Democratic Senator would co-sponsor.

That event made a huge impression on me. And throughout the Bush years, there were many other times when one single Senator could have stopped something terrible from happening, if (s)he had only been willing to put a hold on a bill or lead a serious filibuster. Those include: the U.S.A. Patriot Act in September 2001, the Authorization for the Use of Force Against Iraq in October 2002, the Protect America Act in August 2006, and the $850 bailout in September 2008.

And looking back even further in time, I cannot recall a single moment since I graduated college in 1979 when the Senate did something useful - either stopping something terrible or improving a bill passed by the House. 

So why are progressives wasting any of our energy trying to make the Senate marginally useful? There is an alternative: we could pass a Constitutional Amendment to simply abolish the Senate, and give all its powers to the House. 

I call it the "Black Hole Option" - simply send the Senate into a black hole. Naturally, that would be far more potent than the "Nuclear Option" that Republicans wanted to use in 2007 to eliminate the Senate's filibuster rule.

How would the "Black Hole Option" work? The Amendment could be quite simple:

The Senate shall be abolished, and all its powers transferred to the House of Representatives.

Could such an amendment pass? If it were up to the voters, I have little doubt that it would. As we know, the approval rating of Congress is abysmal. If we told voters they would get a tax refund for the annual cost of operating the Senate, I'm sure they'd support it completely. As a taxpayer, wouldn't you?

Unfortunately voters don't get to pass Constitutional Amendments directly; they must be approved by Congress (2/3 vote in both chambers) or 3/4 of the States.

Obviously the Senate would never support such an amendment. The challenge is whether 3/4 of State Legislatures would pass such an amendment. At first glance, there's no good reason why they wouldn't. The only real objections would come from the smallest states which get disproportionate clout in Congress from their 2 Senators. Obviously Wyoming would have little clout with only 1 Representative. To buy off the smallest states, the Amendment could change the formula for allocating House seats so that no state had fewer than 2 or 3.

Of course the politics would be challenging. But would it be any harder to abolish the Senate than to transform it into something useful by exhausting ourselves to replace one Joe Lieberman with one Ned Lamont every election or two? Honestly, I don't think so. What do you think?

Update 1: Howie Klein shares my disgust with the Senate as an institution:

The Senate is an intensely conservative body. It was meant to be. They call it the world's most exclusive club. In fact, just a few years ago arch-reactionary Zell Miller (GA), who was appointed to a seat opened up by the death of a Republican, proposed a constitutional amendment repealing the 17th, which gave voters the right to elect senators. Ole Zell believes that was way too progressive and that senators should be chosen by (easily-bribed) state legislatures, not by the unwashed masses (who he referred to as "special interests").

There was never any real chance the Senate was going to discipline Joe Lieberman. In the end only 13 members voted to do it-- far more than the small handful of unabashed reactionaries who actually campaigned for him in Connecticut against the Democratic Party candidate, Ned Lamont. They love Lieberman because he's one of them. Any of them could empathize with his predicament. They all like to think of themselves as independent (at least independent of anyone not giving them direct bribes). What a crappy job Harry Reid has, keeping all these assholes on the same page!

Update 2: The Senate just gave us the best argument for abolishing them, by giving convicted felon Ted Stevens a farewell party - complete with standing ovation.


You make it easy to feel disgust Bob.

  • Jim's picture
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In order to get some sleep however, I'm going to see the glass as half full:

Joe L. is such a nobody that he is not worth our ire anymore.

I am lifted by the agenda Obama is putting forth. Joe can rise or fall depending on how he helps or hinders. He was wrong about Iraq. He was wrong about McCain. I'll let history kick his ass.

The "Blue Dogs" are already

  • Bill Harding's picture
    Bill Harding
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The "Blue Dogs" are already bragging about their recent gains in Congress:

If you read between the lines in this article, Lieberman and his DLC cohorts are preparing to move closer to the neoconservatives than ever. Their "balanced budget" malarky, is the same as the Dubya neocons': a smokescreen for more military spending, more war, corporate bailouts, and less funding for domestic social and infrastructure programs.

With "friends" like these, Obama certainly has his work cut out for him. Lieberman is more insidious than Zell Miller -- at least Zell was honest about his true nature.

To anything they say, respond...

  • Jim's picture
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...No, I think the vast majority are underpaid and we are going to correct that right NOW.

BOTH Democrat and Republican should be given credit.

Blue Bloods, on the other hand, can go take a flying leap.

There's no way abolishing

  • ericlipps's picture
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There's no way abolishing the Senate would ever happen. Not a chance.

And in any case, wouldn't it be easier just to make sure we elect the right people? Or, if we can't guarantee that, to hold their feet to the fire?

Here's a proposal: As long as we're talking about amending the Constitution, rather than getting rid of the Senate, why not establish formal, straightforward, and readily-used means of recalling wayward senators? Yes, I know that would carry the potential for mischief, but it would also increase the Senate's accountability to the voters. It would be up to the people to ensure that the recall option was used responsibly.

recalls would require

  • Bob Fertik's picture
    Bob Fertik
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a Constitutional Amendment too, and the Senate would oppose it so it would have to go through 3/4 of the states.

if i had to choose one Amendment or the other, i'd choose abolishing the Senate.

I read that Obama wants him

to retain his standing. If that's true, I'm not so sure the president is worth spit, either.

Usama bin Forgotten

Pudding and Chess.

  • Jim's picture
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In one we'll find the proof.

In the other, I'm placing my hope that this is what is being played.

P.S. Have you seen what Rahm is NOW talking about? Maybe they've learned something from Bush about just how much can be achieved (and without jeopardizing re-election).

Talk is that

in order to keep the friendly feelings of Obama's new friend John McCain, Obama requested that Lieberman keep his stature. That's what I heard.

Usama bin Forgotten

Make everyone happy...

  • Jim's picture
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...then drop the damned hammer and make 75% of us THRILLED.

I don't care if Obama gives Rush L. credit for getting us Universal Health Care as long as it is accomplished.

On second thought, p-l-e-a-s-e let's give Rush credit for that.

Oops! I meant status

And I care.

I care a LOT.

Usama bin Forgotten


  • jbdavis's picture
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You sound like Mussolini.
He advocated abolishing the Senate as well in his 1919 Fascist manifesto.
If you do not believe me, read it yourself.

The senate is an integral part of the checks/balances in our government, and is in place to prevent large states from bullying smaller states. California, for example, cannot use its larger population to demand more influence than is due.

Since you are a Texas Republican JB, why did you not...

use the example of Texas using it's larger population to demand more influence than is due...than bashing poor California, a state that pays more in taxes than it gets back helping all those 'poor' red republican states to survive.

Two houses of Congress were part of the checks and balances originally set up by the founders. Where have the checks and balances been the past 8 years?

A mind once expanded can never return to its original dimensions.

Anne Hathaway: 1556-1623


The greatest derangement of the mind is to believe in something because one wishes it to be so.


  • Jim's picture
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...this thread was meant to be a fire under the arse's of our Senetors.

I'm not sure why you felt the need to state the obvious, unless you missed the above ;)

You're shitting me, right?

You know, I have to laugh at republicans. But first, I'd like to admit amazement at the fact that you retain the courage to even admit you're a republican after the farce we've all been made to suffer at your party's hands over the past eight years of bad policy and stupid, greedy leadership.

Bush has really lowered the bar for Obama. All he has to do is show up at work and read PDBs and it's an improvement.

Back to the subject at hand, and one of the other things I like to laugh at republicans for: Who the hell told you that the Constitution is still worth anything? You goopers like to pick and choose which parts of it that you like. The thing got trashed shortly after Bush got in office and I don't recall hearing any racket from your side of the fence.

So please, why is a Constitutional senate more important than my Constitutional privacy from prying government eyes and ears?

It's not. Quit relying on a Constitutional argument when there is none.

Usama bin Forgotten

The Senate

  • gwu77's picture
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The entire debate here is going nowhere. Let us cut to the quick. Repeal the 17th Amendment and the entire question assumes dimensions of real liberty and power to the people! Suddenly the Constitution will be extremely important.

gwu77, Perhaps I'm reading the 17th amendment wrong...

but it appears to have been passed to allow voters to directly elect Senators from their individual states--rather than allow the Senators to be elected by 'electors' from state legislatures.

What benefit do you see coming from a repeal of the 17th and possibly that of the 16th as well?

A mind once expanded can never return to its original dimensions.

Anne Hathaway: 1556-1623


The greatest derangement of the mind is to believe in something because one wishes it to be so.