Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Democratic Senators Represent Most Of Country

You find out some interesting things when you look under the hood of the United States Senate and examine some basic population and representation numbers.

The Republican party is really feeling its oats these days with a 55-44 Senate edge (Vermont Senator Jim Jeffords is an Independent). They've been using their big lead in Senate composition as an argument for why everything George W. Bush wants should fly through the confirmation process faster than a Bush budget cut on a day-care center.

Lately, that takes the form of their attempts get rid of the filibuster process, that allows the minority party to maintain some semblance of influence over the national agenda.

The filibuster, which allows for unlimited debate on an issue before the Senate – and thus can be used to kill legislation or executive branch appointees -- was truly an open-ended procedure until 1917. At that point, the Senate adopted Rule 22, which permits the Senate to end debate with a two-thirds vote. A lower threshold was adopted in 1975, requiring a three-fifths vote of the 100-member Senate to break a filibuster so that only 60 votes are now required.

The gang at Hypocrites r' Us, The Republican Superstore are all upset about this because it means that even the most spineless of Senate Democrats may be able to stop the most extreme Bush judicial appointment.

It seemed like a perfectly legitimate item when, as the minority party, they had South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond give the longest speech in the history of the Senate in their attempts to kill the Civil Rights Act of 1957. Indeed, Republicans – including Senate Hypocritical Leader Frist – used the filibuster against 60 of Bill Clinton's judicial nominees.

But the interesting thing is that, despite their lead in absolute numbers, Republican senators actual represent less than half the country. Because each state has two senators, a senator from Wyoming, the least populated state, has just as much voting clout as California's Barbara Boxer, who represents 17 million more people.

When one considers that dynamic, it turns out that Democratic senators represent over half the country or almost 3.3 million people more than are represented by Republicans in the Senate.

The filibuster is almost always framed as a way to keep the people represented by the minority party from being totally marginalized. However, when you look at the popultation math, it's an excellent way to see that the majority of the country – represented by Democratic Senators – retains the voice it should have.

When viewed through this prism, Republican whining about the will of the majority being thwarted begins to sound even more hollow.

A Yellow Dog Blog Bonus

More fun with senatorial numbers: Do you know the 15 states with two Democratic senators? Click here to see if you were right.