Yesterday, Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) sponsored a measure to ban the US Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gas emissions from large industrial facilities under the Clean Air Act, as ordered by the US Supreme Court.
The Senate voted 53 to 47 against Murkowski and in favor of EPA’s authority to regulate carbon emissions, as the New York Times reports.
But the closeness of the vote gives the wrong impression about Americans’ views on this issue. The vote results might make you think that the nation is closely divided on climate policy, that the nation is deeply conflicted.
It is not. Only the Senate is, and the Senate is not a democratic body. It represents states, not people. It’s an Alice-in-Wonderland institution in which small population states all get “Eat Me” cakes and blow up like balloons, while giant-population states shrink down to small-state size.
In general, Senators vote their constituents’ values, so I tallied the populations represented by each Senator. By this measure, the 53 Senators voting to protect EPA’s authority represent 60 percent of the US population. The 47 Senators voting to hogtie EPA represent 40 percent.
Democratically counted, it wasn’t a close 53-47. It was 60-40. That’s a different kind of story about political momentum and public will: it’s encouraging news.
Now, if we can just start fixing the Senate.
Notes on my math after the jump.
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I took the vote roll call from the US Senate’s website and the Census Bureau’s estimates of 2009 mid-year population by state. I tallied the population of each state into the “yes” (con EPA) or “no” (pro EPA) column on the measure. Where the two Senators from a state split their votes, I split the state’s population between the “yes” and “no” columns. This tally undercounts US opponents of the Murkowski measure (that is, EPA supporters), because the District of Columbia (which has almost Alaska’s population) is unrepresented in the US Senate, as are Puerto Rico (which has almost six times Alaska’s population) and other US territories and protectorates—most of which would likely have sent votes in support of EPA’s authority to the Senate on this question. Out of curiosity, I added DC and Puerto Rico to the “No” (pro-EPA) column, which pushed the percentages further in support of EPA carbon regulation, from 59.7 percent pro-EPA to 60.3 percent pro-EPA.
Yes the senate is not a democratic institution. It wasn’t setup to be one. If the senate did not have the form it has, there would be no united states, just a bunch of small countries like Europe. Imagine the 13 colonies being 13 separate states. The small states were afraid of the big states dictating to them because of population. How else could Rhode Island and Virginia being convinced to join in a union without a bicameral legislature. For good or bad, the senate rules are an anchor on rapid change and favors small population states. That is as it was intended. The founders didn’t establish a democracy, they founded a republic.
Pat Allen,It’s unclear to me whether you support the Senate in its current form or are simply arguing over its history.As I argued in my original “Un-democracy” post, the founders mostly disliked the Senate. Only five colonies voted for it at the Constitutional Convention in 1877, four abstained, and four voted against it. There are now 50 states. Five of 50 ever voted for the Senate in its current structure: hardly a reason to sustain it in its current form. Furthermore, the founders did not intend the filibuster rule. That was invented later, by accident (as I argued in Busting the Filibuster).The Senate was intended as a brake on rapid change, you’re right. But it’s become an anchor on ANY change. It’s wildly dysfunctional and needs to be changed. George Washington likened it to a saucer into which a hot tea could be poured to cool before drinking. It’s become more like a chest freezer into which hot tea is poured, never to be seen again.Finally, the founders created a representative democracy (calling it a “republic” or a “democracy” doesn’t clarify anything) with a very particular form—a form that exceptionally few successor nations (whether “republic” or “democracy”) have emulated. It’s a form that grew entirely out of the political currents of 1877 and not from the enduring needs of the nation. It gives equal influence to each state in one house and equal influence to each voter in the other.The nation has repeatedly changed this structure (direct election of Senators, extension of the franchise, addition of many new states, etc.). I say it’s time to change the structure further, by abolishing or diminishing the Senate’s role, or by reforming its voting rules to reflect population, and—certainly—by eliminating the filibuster.Do you disagree?Alan