Towards the end of my Tuesday column on the Senate, I gestured towards the idea of making it something like the British House of Lords, which has limited power to veto legislation or developing policies. Most democracies with bicameral national legislatures have done something similar, strengthening their popular lower houses and weakening their upper houses.
The Canadian Senate, for example, acts primarily as a board of review, amending laws emanating from the House of Commons. He can reject legislation, but he rarely exercises this power. The Australian Senate has much more power to block legislation from the House, but the house is more democratic than its American counterpart in that it is allocated by proportional representation.
The United States is alone with a Senate powerful enough to cripple the entire legislature. You could end the filibuster, of course, and that would make things better, but it would take a constitutional amendment to fundamentally reform the Senate.
Let’s say this amendment was on the table. What would he say?
What I would write is simple. I would repeal the 17th Amendment, returning the election of senators to each state legislature and restoring the federal nature of the chamber. But to compensate for the end of the popular election of senators, I would also deprive the Senate of its power to introduce or veto legislation.
In my vision, the Senate would be a board of review that continues to represent states as states. I think it’s necessary because the United States will probably be a federal democracy for as long as it exists, and the system should probably accommodate the interests of state governments (to the extent that they exist) in some way or another.
My Senate could not block House bills, but it could propose amendments if it decided to act. These amendments would then be voted on by a conference committee made up of members of the House and Senate, for final approval. If the Senate decides to hold a bill for revision, it has a fixed period — say, 60 days — in which to act. If he does not act within this period, the bill is deemed adopted and is transmitted to the president for signature.
The Senate would retain its oversight powers as well as its power to approve treaties and offer “advice and consent” to the president for judicial and executive branch nominees. But “notice and consent” would mean a real hearing and a real vote.
The idea is to move the seat of policy-making to the House of Representatives (which I would like to expand to at least 600 members) and make it the most important chamber in the functioning of government. In this scheme, it might be useful to extend the term of the Chamber to three years to reduce campaign pressures and give members more time to develop their expertise, if they seek it.
My rule of thumb here is that the popular chamber of Congress should also be the most influential. You see part of this in the Constitution as written – Article I, Section I establishes the Congress and Section II establishes the House – but I would like to make this the defining part of our constitutional system. I also think that we would have a more agile and efficient government if we eliminated the veto point that is the Senate.
My project for transforming the structure of the US government is a little broader and more nuanced than that (I would like to expand federal representation to the territories and to Americans abroad, for example), but these are the basics of a large part of it. The Senate is too powerful. Let’s cut it down to size.
What i have written
My Tuesday column was about the Senate problem:
It may seem strange to blame the institution for this result. It’s not like there’s an alternative to having laws passed by both houses of Congress. But it’s also no coincidence that climate legislation has repeatedly passed the House only to crumble in the Senate. It is no coincidence that, as a general rule, the upper house is where popular legislation goes to die or, if not killed, where it is passed in a truncated and diminished form, such as the recent (and lackluster) bipartisan gun bill. . The Senate was built for this purpose. It was designed to keep the people in check – to put limits on the reach of democracy and the reach of representation.
And my Friday column was on the Electoral College issue (a recurring theme, I know):
The Electoral College makes it hard to see that every state contains a multitude of political perspectives, and that our democracy might be a little healthier if a Seattle Republican’s vote counted so much towards the outcome of a presidential election. than that of a Green Bay Democrat.
Erwin Chemerinsky defending judicial review for The American Prospect.
Corey Robin talks about Clarence Thomas for The New Yorker.
Sarah Jones on the anti-abortion movement for New York magazine.
Vanessa Williamson on taxation for dissent.
I took this years ago at a Civil War reenactment marking the 150th anniversary of the surrender at Appomattox. Re-enactors Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant were having coffee and relaxing a bit before the day’s festivities.
Eating: Curried Broccoli and Cauliflower Salad
This recipe is taken from the wonderful book “Jubilee: Recipes From Two Centuries of African American Cooking”, by Toni Tipton-Martin. It’s very easy to assemble, and very, very good. This recipe makes enough for about four people, and you can easily double it if you’re cooking for a group. I didn’t make any adjustments to the salad the last time I made it, but what I will recommend is making your own mayonnaise. It’s pretty easy and the results are far superior to anything you can get in the store.
4 slices of bacon
½ cup mayonnaise
¼ cup) sugar
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
¼ teaspoon curry powder or more, to taste
2 cups broccoli florets, trimmed and cut into bite-size pieces
¼ cup sliced celery.
2 cups cauliflower florets, trimmed and cut into bite-size pieces
⅓ cup plus a tablespoon of raisins
⅓ cup plus 1 tablespoon toasted slivered almonds
In a medium skillet, cook bacon over medium-high heat until crisp, about 7 minutes. Drain on paper towel and crumble when cool enough to handle. Reserve the fat for another use.
In a small bowl, combine mayonnaise, sugar, vinegar, curry powder and salt to taste.
In a serving bowl, layer the broccoli florets, celery and cauliflower. Pour over all the dressing. Add a layer of raisins, then almonds, then top with bacon. Cover with an airtight lid or plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 8 hours or overnight. Stir before serving.