Steven Hill: Senate "Minority Rule" Is the Disease, Not the Cure, for Health Care Reform





The United States is now the last advanced nation that does not have universal health care. So it's not just the senators' credibility on the line if they fail to provide to all Americans a similar level of health care benefits that they themselves enjoy as senators. It's the very democratic legitimacy of the body in which they serve.

The United States is now the last advanced nation that does not have universal health care. So it's not just the senators' credibility on the line if they fail to provide to all Americans a similar level of health care benefits that they themselves enjoy as senators. It's the very democratic legitimacy of the body in which they serve.
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As the nation girds itself for an epic battle over health care reform, all eyes will be on the U.S. Senate. That chamber, whose members often refer to themselves as the world's most deliberative body, more accurately can be described as the least representative body outside Britain's House of Lords, where "minority rule" strangles reform on a regular basis.

While Republicans warn against the Democrats using "reconciliation," the 51-vote tactic the GOP frames as a "nuclear option," Democrats should remind the public: There's nothing wrong with invoking simple majority rule in a body that is, in some ways, deeply undemocratic by design.

Let us remember: The Democrats have a solid majority in the Senate. And polls tell us that a majority of Americans support major health care reform. Yet so far, the party in control has been impotent to enact health care for the public as good as that enjoyed by themselves as senators--because you need 60 out of 100 votes to pass anything in the Senate.

The Senate's use of that arcane rule known as the "filibuster" means you need 60 votes to stop unlimited debate on a bill and move to a vote. The filibuster allows a mere 41 senators to completely stymie what the vast majority wants.

But it gets worse for those who believe in majority rule. Many of the 41 who could stand in the way of reform represent low-population states, together constituting as little as 20% of the nation's population (though this figure could be even lower, depending on how the senators vote). Yet they can completely stymie what representatives of the vast majority want.

This is par for the course in the Senate. With two senators awarded per state, regardless of population--a legacy of the deal struck in 1787 partly to keep the slave-owning states from exiting a fledgling nation--New York with more than 19 million people has the same number of senators as Wyoming with a half-a-million people.

It's only gotten worse over time....

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Robert Lee Gaston - 9/23/2009

If the Senate Democrats want health care they can have it. They have the magic 60 votes. All they have to do is man-up and cast them.

The problem is they want it both ways. The Democrats are facing the same problem the Republicans had last cycle. They have a large number of members who will have to stand for election in 2010.

No guts, no glory.

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