Thursday, November 14, 2013

Switching roles

It occurs to me that these days the Senate is a lot more responsive to the electorate than the House. In the House, with most districts gerrymandered into super-safe seats, and a majority leader who mostly follows the unspeakable Hastur Rule so that even things that would have a majority support in that chamber never come up for a vote, there is almost no accountability to public opinion. For example, the government shutdown was wildly unpopular, so the House caused a shutdown anyway. Immigration reform is broadly popular, but it's not going to get through the House.

Meanwhile the Senate, while hardly a public opinion bell weather, is a lot more responsive than the House. Thanks to the Seventeenth Amendment, Senators are directly elected in districts with borders that can't be gerrymandered. Unlike House members, a Senator cannot rest assured that his or her seat is engineered to be safe. And while overuse of the filibuster effectively has created a super majority requirement to pass anything in the Senate these days, I still think it's less of an obstruction than the stupid "majority of the majority" rule that John Boehner follows in the House. I mean, it only takes 5 Republican senators to defect to break a filibuster. As hard as it is, that's at least something that Democrats can work with. I think it's safe to say that getting 118 Republicans to get on board so that legislation can come to a vote in the House is beyond the reach of even the most persuasive Dem.

So more responsive Senate and less responsive House. That's interesting because that's pretty much the opposite of what the founders intended. The whole point of the Senate was to put a check on the "violent passions" of the people.

On the other hand, while the House might be less responsive to the overall mood of the country, it does seem to be the chamber of violent passions just because that's the minority of the country that the House leadership is listening to right now.