How 7.4% of Americans can block humanity’s efforts to save itself
A couple weeks ago I wrote a piece on what’s really killing climate legislation: the absurd procedural chokepoints in the U.S. Senate, coupled with an unprincipled minority devoted to obstruction. I’m happy to report there’s been an uptick lately in people trying to draw attention to this problem. From the last week or two:
- Univ. of Miami professor Greg Koger, who has a book coming out on filibusters, has a series of five posts offering history and analysis of the filibuster. See esp. The Rise of the 60-Vote Senate.
- Chris Bowers: If GOP wins 3 Senate seats, and Dems don’t destroy filibuster, then Dems can’t govern after 2010 — Bowers advocates Dems using the “nuclear option” to get rid of the filibuster.
- The Nation‘s politics editor Chris Hayes: What Ails the Senate.
- Washington Post columnist Steven Pearlstein: Want real reform? Let’s start with Congress.
- Washington Post blogger Ezra Klein: Four ways to end the filibuster.
- Washington Post column Harold Meyerson: The do-nothing Senate.
- Annie Lowrey: How the Senate filibusters the world.
- Jonathan Krasno and Gregory Robinson: Time to rein in the filibuster.
- Benjamin Sarlin and Samuel P. Jacobs: Senate Stonewallers: Capitol Hill’s most ornery No Men.
- Matt Yglesias: Can The Filibuster Be Reformed?
- Kevin Drum: Reforming the Senate.
Here’s one thing to add to the discussion. The Copenhagen climate talks are coming up. The Obama administration has been scrupulously careful not to promise anything in international negotiations that it can’t deliver — i.e., that it can’t get past the U.S. Senate.
Senate ratification of an international treaty requires not just 60 but 67 votes. Say 34 senators rally to block such a treaty — senators from, oh, Wyoming, Vermont, North Dakota, Alaska, South Dakota, Delaware, Montana, Rhode Island, Hawaii, New Hampshire, Maine, Idaho, Nebraska, West Virginia, New Mexico, Nevada, and Utah. Thus can representatives for 22,540,352 people — 7.4% of the population — block the will of the other 281,519,372. Indeed, senators representing 7.4% of Americans can thwart the entire world’s efforts to address the climate crisis.
Killing a treaty is easier than killing a clean energy bill. Why, killing a clean energy bill requires representatives for 25,289,049 people — fully 8.3% of the population! — to thwart the will of the remaining 278,770,675. (If you’re keeping score, the guilty parties here would be: Wyoming, Vermont, North Dakota, Alaska, South Dakota, Delaware, Montana, Rhode Island, Hawaii, New Hampshire, Maine, Idaho, Nebraska, West Virginia, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, Kansas, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Iowa.) For the record, 15 of those 21 states (71%) voted for Bush in 2004.
Now of course it won’t be these precise coalitions of senators that kill the COP15 treaty and the clean energy bill. They’ll snag high-population senators like Cornyn and Hutchison from Texas. But the point remains: the Senate, already unrepresentative thanks to the disproportionate influence of rural, low-population states, has become, thanks to the routine use of filibusters and holds, grotesquely undemocratic.
The country just can’t be governed this way. And consequently, the world community cannot coordinate to effectively meet the climate threat.