Senate Dems limit agenda to protect small-state senators

Whew! The American people need not worry that U.S. Senate leaders might do their job, as in taking command of the legislative agenda.

More after the jump.

We sure do not want to jeopardize the Democratic Senate seats in conservative-leaning states like Montana, Nebraska and North Dakota.

Under the headline “Senate Democrats’ minimalist agenda,” The Washington Post reports that the Democratic majority has intentionally restrained itself to save seats in states like these.

The May 21 Post account states: “Democrats have decided to try to shield those lawmakers from the usual weeks-long debates and instead await for compromises to be reached behind closed doors. Reid’s approach is a bet that doing nothing looks better for them, so long as their arguments resonate with voters in 2012.”

Welcome to governance in 2011. We are stuck with an immovable Senate because doing their jobs might cause some Democrats to lose their jobs in the November 2012 election. The Democratic leadership is worried that they will lose their 51-47 majority if they overplay their hand; two senators are independents who caucus with the Democrats.

What, then, is the point of having a Senate?

Senate gridlock is rooted in the Senate’s composition when delegates from smaller states at the Constitutional Convention feared that the larger states would dominate the government under a Congress with proportionate representation. They compromised by requiring equal representation for all states in the Senate while leaving the House of Representatives with proportionate representation.

The five states that opposed proportionate representation in 1787 would surely benefit by it today, either directly or indirectly. Though a small state, Delaware is part of the liberal Northeast bloc as is Connecticut, Maryland and New Jersey…almost forgot, New York was the fifth dissident state. Rhode Island did not participate in the convention, but all six states are currently represented by Democrats in the Senate.

Most low-population states are conservative or conservative-leaning. Most are represented by Republicans in the Senate or alternate between the two parties. If Tom Daschle represented New Jersey or New York rather than South Dakota, where he lost in a re-election bid, he would almost certainly be serving in the Senate today.

Daschle’s fellow Democrats do not want others like him defeated, so they adjust their agenda to protect their Senate seats in swing states. Three of those states, where two incumbents are up for re-election and a third is retiring, are home to 3.5 million people – Nebraska, 1.7 million; Montana, 975,00; and North Dakota, 646,000.

So, 1 percent of the nation’s citizenry can propel the Senate leadership to ignore or minimize the needs and concerns of millions upon millions of Americans. Democrats in the 112th Senate represent 190 million Americans. America’s latest population estimate is 308 million.

The four Democratic senators from New York and California collectively represent one-sixth of America’s population, 36.9 million in California and 19.5 million in New York.

That leaves 56.4 million Americans, and millions from other moderate or liberal states, in the lurch.

If the Senate represented the populace on a more proportionate basis, then far more attention would likely be paid to issues raised by the senators from high-population states such as New York and California.

It is necessary to point out how the Constitution’s requirements for Senate representation limits responsiveness to residents of the more  populous states. Clarifying the problem is the first step toward resolving it.

However, I am well aware of the obstacles under the amendment process to changing the rules. On the surface, accomplishing anything substantial appears to be impossible.

One never knows. Maybe it can be done. After nearly 10 years, who genuinely expected America to find Osama bin Laden? Perhaps the same will and determination can be applied to revising the rules.

Storm-tossed South rises… for more government

Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina: “It should have some spending cuts as a down payment on controlling the size of our federal government.”

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Richmond, Virginia: “We’ve had to bring this president kicking and screaming to the table to cut spending.”

House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio: “It’s time for us to get serious about how we’re spending the nation’s money.”

These Republicans, along with others in Congress and statehouses like Trenton and Madison, demand smaller government and lower spending, yet they have not complained about the federal government’s aid to the Republican-dominated Southern states ravaged by storms and tornadoes that left 350 people dead.

More after the jump.
“They have been very proactive and very reactive to our requests,” Rep. Robert B. Aderholt, a northern Alabama Republican, told The New York Times.

Aderholt was praising the Obama administration’s response to the storms, mainly through the Federal Emergency Management Agency. When the president visited Tuscaloosa, Ala., the hardest hit area in the region, Obama said, “We’re going to make sure that you’re not forgotten and that we do everything we can make sure that we rebuild.”

Obama signed a disaster declaration for Alabama on Thursday, April 28, 2011, and subsequently signed disaster declarations for Georgia and Mississippi.

FEMA administrator W. Craig Fugate explained that the declarations sought by these states mean that the federal government will pay 75 percent of the uninsured costs to repair public buildings; that residents can qualify for modest recovery grants; and that businesses can apply for low-interest loans.

FEMA also assigned liaison officers to Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi and Tennessee, a spokesman said.

Aderholt, a veteran House member who seems more reasonable than extremist Republicans, is not resisting the government’s aid to Alabama and the other southern states. Most of them are represented by Republicans in the Senate, the House and their respective governor’s offices.

Probably some people wish that Obama had rejected these disaster declarations in the spirit of shrinking government. If Republicans want less government, why would they accept federal aid for storm relief?

Back in Washington, the GOP House and Senate members from these states have been plotting to eliminate programs that help all Americans generally and big cities specifically.

Never did they express such urgent concern when they voted to invade two fragmented countries one after the other and cut taxes for the wealthy.

The hypocrisy is glaring, but the disasters plaguing the South show that even southern states need government. The only effective means of resolving America’s many problems is to involve government, directly or indirectly.

We all certainly recognize that there are many problems with government.

Ronald Reagan’s proclamation that “Government is the problem” distorts the situation. Government is “a” problem when it does not carry out its responsibilities properly. Did Reagan do his job or was he “the problem” for eight years?

The same question can posed to Boehner, Cantor and Graham.
 

A level playing field for independent candidates

— by Bruce Ticker

Pity the poor independent voter whose attitude toward the two major parties is simple:

A pox on both your houses.

That long-standing phrase could be taken literally given GOP control of the U.S. House of Representatives and Democratic control of the U.S. Senate.

Many independents voted for Republicans last November to send a message: If those in charge mess up, we will vote them out. At this rate, Republicans will be vulnerable to voter wrath in November 2012. The budget plan that effectively scraps Medicare is already a campaign issue that should terrify Republicans.

As television host Rachel Maddow correctly points out, Republican candidates pledged to focus on supplying jobs to the millions of Americans who are out of work. GOP House members insist that all their legislative initiatives since early January are tied to new jobs.

It is a stretch that their Jan. 19 repeal of the Affordable Care Act has anything to do with job creation. Or their new proposals on Tuesday, Feb. 8, to add restrictions on funding for abortions and eliminate federal financing for women’s health care clinics that provide abortions. Republican House members engaged in internal party squabbles over funding reductions.

An end to gridlock? Republicans can barely agree on a bad course of action, much less any course.

American voters will always be upset with this country’s direction so long as Democrats and Republicans are fighting one another. Why must we tolerate this?

More importantly, why must voters be forced to choose between candidates from the two major parties? Each Democrat voted out of Congress was replaced by a Republican. Did the dissidents specifically want Republicans in charge? Would voters consider electing a credible independent with a viable chance of winning?

Let’s suppose that in your Congressional District an independent candidate with a sensible platform entered the race against the Democratic incumbent and the Republican challenger. Voters are disappointed, justly or not, with the Democratic incumbent and are not enthused with the Republican. What would they do?

Under the present system, they might fear they will throw their vote away for the independent because most of their neighbors will vote Democrat or Republican. Or, the independent might draw votes from the lesser of the two partisan evils. Also, the party candidates no doubt are better financed and operate more efficient political organizations.

Suppose a system is created in which no one candidate draws votes away from another candidate. Instead, citizens can vote for their candidates and then list their next preferences. If no candidate wins a majority of votes, then a person’s vote can be transferred to a next-preference candidate with a larger share of the votes.

The Center for Voting and Democracy describes further how the system, called Instant Runoff Voting, operates:

“IRV allows voters to rank candidates in order of preference. Voters have the option to rank as many or as few as they wish, but can vote without fear that ranking less favored candidates will harm the chances of their most preferred candidates.

“First choices are then tabulated, and if a candidate receives a majority of first choices, he or she is elected. If nobody has a clear majority of votes on the first count, a series of runoffs are simulated, using each voter’s preferences indicated on the ballot. The weakest candidates are successively eliminated and their voters’ ballots are redistributed to next choices until a candidate earns a majority of votes.”

IRV has prompted criticisms, but at the very least it takes us in the right direction away from what we now have.

More after the jump.
An educated guess: If IRV was in place last November nationwide, the new crop of House members would have likely consisted of a healthy mix of independents and Republicans, along with incumbent Democrats who survived re-election because voters ranked them as their next preference. Maybe neither party would have the majority.

The infusion of a large number of independents in Congress would be the best move for America. The democratic process would be enlivened. Independents would inherently act on the basis of policy and the needs of their constituents. They will not be beholden to either major political party to any appreciable degree, even though they would form alliances with either party depending on the issue at hand.

A system allowing for expansion of candidates would also render conflicts over redistricting somewhat irrelevant. Every 10 years, each major party maneuvers to benefit their chances of winning the most congressional seats. What difference would redistricting make if a level playing field was created for independents?

There are good people with fine intentions in both parties, but they will always factor in the wider political needs of their parties. They need their parties for financial and organizational support in future elections, and they will consider how there votes will affect the political fortunes of other party members.

As it stands, it is nearly impossible to comprehend why the Republican Party exists now except to perpetuate their place in government. They back policies that are harmful to the poor and middle class, and only the greediest among the rich need their help. Democrats make a good-faith effort to serve the public, but they still tailor their positions to shore up re-election chances for the president and for senators and representatives from swing areas.

Democratic leaders would call this moving to the center, others would call it blatant pandering.

Two independents now serving in the Senate usually vote with the Democrats. Sen. Bernie Sanders, a self-acknowledged socialist, evolved as a highly respected mayor of Burlington, part of the largest metropolitan area in Vermont, and he subsequently served in the House before running for the Senate in 2006.

Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman represented Connecticut for three terms before losing the Democratic primary in 2006. He ran as an independent and beat the Democratic nominee in the general election.

The emergence of viable independent candidates is possible in communities with relatively small constituencies such as congressional districts and in small states for Senate and governor posts. It does not seem practical for an independent to get elected president or senator in a large state.

The latter thought may appear to be unrealistic, but it is certainly not impossible. After all, this is America.