The Black Hole Option: Abolish the Senate
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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. Democrats.com 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.