In the Gettysburg Address, Abraham Lincoln famously described a “government of the people, by the people, for the people.”
Just recently, we saw a good example that Lincoln was too optimistic: the Senate filibuster of the Paycheck Fairness Act.
Despite support from a clear majority of the Senate, the bill failed because of a filibuster by a minority of senators, including Maine Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King.
In the Paycheck Fairness Act vote, senators representing 37.35 percent of the U.S. population blocked legislation favored by the majority.
Our system vests excessive power in the minority through the arcane filibuster rule, which, surprisingly, is not in the Constitution. The filibuster rule basically requires 60 percent of senators to support a bill before it can be passed by 51 percent of them. What an undemocratic absurdity.
A quick examination of filibuster math makes it even more nonsensical. Senators from the least populous 20 states can block any Senate legislation.
The population of these states is less than 40 million, only about 12 percent of the entire U.S. population. Fortunately, not all the small states are aligned politically, but many are. And frequently, the winner of the stronger party’s primary in these states wins the general election.
The dominant party’s primary voters, who represent less than 25 percent of a state’s population, choose the senator. Do we really want such a small percentage of the public, conceivably 3 percent (25 percent of 12 percent), to have power to block virtually everything?
No wonder our government rarely passes bills of any significance.
To make our government much more “of the people, by the people, for the people,” we should demand an end to the filibuster rule.