Helpful Changes That Don’t Scrap The Constitution

This text is problematic.

This text is problematic.

Alex MacGillis has a good piece in the Washington Post‘s Outlook section on the wild inequity of the U.S. Senate. The arguments have been made fairly comrephensively on the leftwing blogosphere, but the appearance of something like this in the Post is notable. Anyway, while the piece rightly criticizes the damaging impact of the modern Senate, it’s worth pointing out that Constitutional reform isn’t the only way to improve things. In particular, abolishing the filibuster would be a good place to start. As Matt Yglesias argued several days ago:

I think the real point here is that it doesn’t matter what the Supreme Court thinks. The Supreme Court can’t rule on questions of Senate procedure. This is what the “political question” doctrine was built for. But the flipside of that is that, as I’ve said before, if Joe Biden, Harry Reid, and 49 other Senators want to change the filibuster rule or deem a health plan eligible for reconciliation or whatever else they like nobody can stop them. The Senate itself is the only adjudicator of its own procedures. The reason majorities hesitate to empower themselves this way is that even though the filibuster is against the transient interests of the current majority it serves the individual interests of each senator by increasing the worth of his vote.

However, Senators are not often wont to institute reforms that reduce the power of Senators, so it’s a difficult thing for which to build support. Of course, gridlock has prompted changes to the filibuster in the past, so it can happen again — just don’t hold your breath. Also, it’s worth noting that reform of the Committee system could go a long way as well.


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