Tomorrow, Republicans will officially take control of the Senate for the first time since 2006. Once Vice President Biden finishes swearing in the Senate class of 2015, they will have a 54 to 46 majority over Democrats.
It’s not a filibuster- or veto-proof majority, but it’s still a big deal for conservatives.
They’ve been saying for years now that voters were angry about President Obama and his policies, and the fact that Republicans will now control the Senate and the House is about as good a sign as you can get that the US public wanted a change.
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At least what Republicans want you to think.
The good people over at FairVote crunched some numbers and it turns out that the GOP’s takeover of Congress isn’t as much of a victory as the media says it was – far from it, actually.
If you take the states out of the equation and just look at the nationwide totals, Democratic Senators actually got more votes than Republican Senators, and it’s not even close.
According to FairVote, the 44 Democratic Senators and their two independent allies received 67.8 million votes over the course of the 2010, 2012 and 2014 elections. The 54 Republican Senators, on the other hand, received only 47.1 million votes during that same time period. That’s a difference of more than 20 million votes!
If you think this is insane that the party that got the fewest votes – by more than 20 million – now controls the Senate, well, then, you’re right. As it’s put together right now, the Senate is incredibly anti-(small “d”) democratic.
Because every state gets two Senators regardless of its population, the 580,000 people who live in Wyoming, for example, have just as much influence with their two senators as the 38 million people who live in California do with their two senators.
That’s not to say that the people of Wyoming don’t deserve representation – they do – but they already get that in the House Representatives. All the Senate does is make it a lot harder for the citizens of big states like New York and California to have a say in our political system.
This is by design, too. The Senate was never meant to reflect the interests of the majority and was created by the founders as a compromise between “big” states and “small” states.
And I’m not talking just about “small states” like Rhode Island.
The white, and thus census and voting-eligible population of slave states like Georgia was, in 1787, very small compared to New York or Pennsylvania, and these slave states wanted to make sure they had as much representation in Congress as did the more-white-populous non-slave states to the north.
But what might have made sense 200-plus years ago to people trying to forge a new country and juggle the politics of slavery doesn’t make much sense now, and it has serious consequences for our democracy.
Come tomorrow, the new Republican-controlled Senate will have free reign to gut regulations and screw everyday working people in whatever ways it wants, even though it wasn’t elected by the majority of the US public.
There are a couple of ways to fix this now that we no longer have to dance around the issue of slavery.
The first and most obvious is to amend the Constitution to abolish the Senate in favor of a more representative and democratic body based on proportional representation – something that most other advanced democracies have already done.
But amending the Constitution is really, really hard, and would likely fail given Republican opposition to anything that resembles, you know, actual democracy.
So, instead, we should consider something just as radical but probably more feasible.
We could break up big states into multiple smaller states and keep the same basic plan of two Senators per state. Turn California, for example, into three or four states; make New York City its own state; separate South Florida from the rest of the state; split Texas in two; and separate northern from southern Illinois.
This would give people currently living in what are now big states a greater say in the Senate, but would avoid a messy and probably doomed amendment campaign.
It would also attract a lot of conservatives in big liberal states like California who are fed up with their current state governments and want to run things their own way – there are already conservative movements in Texas, California and Colorado to split up their states.
One thing needs to be clear, though: whether it’s through amending the Constitution or breaking up the states, a change needs to happen.
The status quo doesn’t work, is biased towards rural Republicans, and is fundamentally at odds with democracy.