Both the Boston Globe and the New York Times today run stories on the fate of health-care reform in the event that Republican candidate Scott Brown defeats Democrat Martha Coakley in tomorrow’s special election for the U.S. Senate.
In light of that, I want to address the notion that it would be somehow undemocratic if the House could be persuaded to pass the Senate bill, thus avoiding a return trip to the Senate, or if a compromise measure were rushed through before Brown can be sworn in.
First, let’s look at the composition of the Senate itself. Even if Brown wins, the Senate will comprise 59 Democrats or their allies and 41 Republicans. Only in the upside-down world of the modern Senate would that be considered anything less than an enormous advantage.
What gives the Republicans clout, of course, is their unprecedented strategy of filibustering vote after vote. As Paul Krugman recently noted, a study by the political scientist Barbara Sinclair found that the routine filibuster is a very recent phenomenon, and entirely Republican in origin.
If the Republicans are going to insist that 60 votes are needed to get anything done, then rules reform ought to be the first order of the day. My preference would be an insistence that filibusters be carried out the old-fashioned way, Jimmy Stewart-style, on the floor of the Senate. Harry Reid could play Lyndon Johnson, forcing everyone to stay in the chamber until human biology brought an end to the charade.
My second point is that we tend to forget what a distorting effect the Constitution’s two-senators-per-state rule has with regard to whose voice gets heard. I ran some numbers a little while ago; in states with one Democrat and one Republican, I awarded half the population to each. Using that formula, I found that Democratic senators represent 196 million Americans, and Republican senators represent just 110 million.
Thus the Senate’s 60-40 margin in favor of Democrats would widen to 64-36 if the one-person/one-vote rule were followed. And a Brown victory would barely affect that margin, as it would be 63 percent to 37 percent.
There’s no question that a Brown victory would have an enormous psychological effect. It’s hard to know whether congressional Democrats would push something through in order to put health care behind them once and for all, or if they would decide instead to give up on the whole effort.
But that’s a matter for another day — perhaps Wednesday.