Shadowproof

Senate Filibuster Rules: Letting 0.58% of the US population control Senate health care votes

David D wrote a post about the dysfunction being caused by the decades-old Senate filibuster rule.

This rule has played right into the hands of those who want to concentrate wealth and operate by oligarchic rules. Why?

According to David Dayen, the filibuster originated in 1841, so let’s check a Wikipedia page about the history of the US Census and see what the nation’s demographics looked liked like in 1841 when the filibuster rule was implemented. First, we learn that:

The sixth Census was taken June 1, 1840. The census estimated the population of the United States at 17,100,000. The results were tabulated by 28 clerks in the Bureau of the Census.

Clicking on the Wikipedia link for the 1840 US Census, we learn some interesting facts:

The United States Census of 1840 was the sixth census of the United States. Conducted by the Bureau of the Census on June 1, 1840, it determined the resident population of the United States to be 17,069,453 — an increase of 32.7 percent over the 12,866,020 persons enumerated during the 1830 Census.

The total population included 2,487,355 slaves. In 1840, the center of population was about 260 miles (418 km) west of Washington near Weston, West Virginia.

If you were a slave-holding Senator, you’d probably want to ensure that the ‘rules’ of the Senate favored your property interests, and any claims that ‘rights’ or legislation should operate by some kind of democratic head-count would have been anathema.
And today, they are still anathema to certain special intrests.
And for every dollar spent in America, about 17 cents is spent on health care.
So you might say that we still have some very, very special interests who have more to gain by allowing a tiny minority to filibuster than they will gain by anything resembling actual, one-person-one-vote ‘democracy’.

In 1841, the US was a rapidly growing agrarian nation in 1841, with over 2,000,000 slaves. Senate rules that heavily weighted property rights (since slaves were regarded as ‘property’) were implemented in what became known as the ‘filibuster rule’.
In 1841, when the filibuster rule was adopted, the Civil War was more than a decade into the future.
Electricity was not yet understood, despite Ben Franklin’s kite flying escapades.
Ships were powered by sails and oars.
Samuel Morse had sent the first telegraphic message, "What Hath God Wrought?" a mere four years previously.
The British government had just invented postage stamps, so that recipients of letters didn’t have to scramble around for money in order to receive their letters, and the US was taking note of this new novelty.
Charles Goodyear had just figured out how to ‘vulcanize’ rubber, but a Brit had stolen his idea.
A German chemist was discovering that nitrogen was a key plant nutrient.
Czar Nikolai ruled in Russia, and Queen Victoria (all of 21 years old) was ruling England.
In this social, political, and economic context, the Senate filibuster was born.

But consider the following facts: we are no longer an agrarian society.
We no longer allow slavery.
We currently have more than 17,069,453 US citizens in the following cities: New York, LA, Chicago, and Houston (and that doesn’t include any of their suburbs).
We’ve been to the moon.
We have iPods, iPhones, computers, and cars.
And now, almost 81% of us live in cities, which gives even more popwer to anyone in the US Senate who is from a small state, and who wants to filibuster.

It is 2009, and we are allowing the US Senate to be ‘held hostage’ – legislatively – by four Senators. At a time when the population of the entire nation in 1841’s agrarian society would fit into our 4 largest cities, with plenty of room to spare.

Let’s quickly review some numbers:

17,069,453 = the number of US citizens in the 1841 Census.
17,293,012 = the number of US citizens counted in the 2000 US Census in the following four cities: New York, LA, Chicago, and Houston — figures from this page.
0 = Number of slaves currently allowed under US laws
168 = Number of years since the filibuster rule was originally enacted in the United States Senate in 1841.
96 = Number of US Senators not threatening to filibuster health care as of 11-28-2009.
4 = Number of **Democratic** US Senators threatening to stop health care reform in the Senate.

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Our next question might be to ask a bit more about those 4 Dem Senators who threaten to filibuster on health care reform.

Are they representative of the larger US population and the national interest?
What percentage of the US population do they represent?

In other words, are they fairly typical?
Or are they are tiny, itsy-bitsy minority?

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Let me make this a bit more visual for you:

Number of Senators not threatening to filibuster (including R’s, because with the ‘weak’ Dems, they don’t have to):
XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

And now, the 4 ‘weak’ Dems: Landrieu (LO), B. Lincoln (AR), B. Nelson (NE), HoJoe (CT)
XXXX

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Moving right along, let’s do a quick-and-dirty, rough visual of the proportion of Americans whose Senators are holding up health care, because roughly 96% of us have Senators are **NOT** threatening to filibuster.

Using Wikipedia’s numbers, we’ll assume roughly 308,000,000 US citizens.
No illegal immigrants are included in that number; just those of us who can prove to the US Census department that we are citizens.

Of that number, the **total** population of the 4 states of Louisiana, Nebraska, Arkansas, and Connecticut amount to a whooping 4.06%, or 12,550,870 souls.

That leaves about 295,449,130 of us who have Senators not threatening to filibuster on health care at the present time.

Those are really big numbers; to give ourselves a better sense of their rough proportions, the simplest thing is to use dots: at one dot per million, I need to put 295 dots for ‘those of us who DO want health care reform, or at least don’t have a Senator who is threatening to filibuster’.

That will leave me to put roughly 13 dots to represent those with Senators who ARE threatening to filibuster health care reform. (Yeah, the total population is about 12,550,870, but I’ll round up to ’13 dots’ just so they can’t whine that their Itsy-Bitsy-Teenie-Weenie-Minority was ‘undercounted’).

So here goes:

US population (1 dot:million) of those citizens who have Senators who are NOT threatening to filibuster health care reform as of 11-28-2009:

……………………………………………………………………………………….
……………………………………………………………………………………….
…………………………………………………………………………………..

US population (1 dot:million) of those whose Senators are threatening to filibuster health care reform:
………….

Does making a ‘visual’ help you think a bit differently about what’s at stake in the health care reform filibuster posturings?

Does anyone call out Blanche Lincoln, or HoJoe, or Mary Landrieu, or Ben Nelson with actual facts? With demographic data that shows how tiny their state populations actually are — at least, compared with what we might call The National Interest?

I have yet to see a single report in media that used ‘actual population numbers’ to show how much power these small state Senators are wagging around.

This isn’t even a case of the tail wagging the dog.
This is a case of the last half-inch of the tail wagging the dog.

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The Senate filibuster belongs to the era of the sailing ship when 295,000,000+ Americans are being held ‘hostage’ on health care reform by four Senators who represent fewer than 13,000,000 citizens.
I’d call that: Tyranny of the Itsy-Bitsy-Teenie-Weenie-Minority.
And I’m really completely fed up with it.

Your thoughts?

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