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PETRILLO’S COMMENTARY: Should the Authority of the US Senate be Changed?

June 6, 2019

G. Thomas Porteous

 

Several posts ago, in an effort to entertain myself, I wrote in a commentary to my blog, This and that from re Thai r ment, by 3Th. (https://josephpetrillo.wordpress.com/2019/01/26/this-and-that-from-re-thai-r-ment-by-3th-25-joseph-0008-january-14-2019/)  admittedly somewhat garbled proposal for reforming the structure of the US Senate as it appears in the Constitution in order to make it more amenable to the election of each of its members by an equal number of voters.

I was wondering about the tremendous Imbalance in the Senate between Senators and the populations they represent. While I fully sympathize with the Founding Fathers wishes to protect smaller states from rapacious behavior by the larger and defense of the State from irrational behavior of the vox-populi, I believe a modest change will preserve the founders intent while reducing many of its current irrational and undemocratic aspects.

This would entail amending the appropriate sections of the constitution to provide for a Senate composed of Senators equal to two times the number of states, Each State would receive one Senator as of right. The remainder will be decided among the states according to population with the House of Representatives setting appropriate equal multistate districts based on census data for a Senator that may represent several states.

This approach would leave California with about four Senators and Texas with about three, both substantially less than they would have based on population alone, This would leave as many as 50 million citizens in low population states under-represented. This would be handled by the creation of about eight super districts, The decision of the House of Representatives would be reviewable by the Supreme Court to determine if the House applied the Constitutional Standards for drawing up the districts.

As for the US territories and the District of Columbia, they include almost five million unrepresented US citizens (primarily in the district of Columbia and Puerto Rico). These would be included by the House in the super district nearest to them.

Or, as an alternative, changing the role and authority of the Senate. They would still retain their role of “advise and consent” on executive and judicial appointments, treaties and the like. They would retain their current oversight role of the executive. They would review and approve the budget adopted by the House but have no role in its drafting. Perhaps the review of specific tax increases or reductions approved by the House. But, they would have no role in the drafting, review, and approval of general legislation. That would be exclusively a function of the House.

For many reasons, this could never happen and may not even be advisable but at a certain age speculation on what will not be is an amusing way to spend your time.

 

 

After, thinking it over and convincing myself that, in addition to the unlikely possibility of it being enacted, it was not all that much an improvement over what we have now.

Recently, I attempted to come up with an alternative that, while still unlikely to be enacted, pleased me more. I thought that instead of changing how Senators are elected a change in the nature of their authority would be worth considering.

The reasons for assigning two Senators to each State in the Constitution appear to me have become obsolete over time, but at least one reason still has some validity. That is, there may be issues of State interest, many not detailed in the Constitution, and not necessarily of individual interest.  Foth that reason, I tried to identify some of those interests of the several states and assign them to the Senate. I thought that based upon those interests, the following might be appropriate:

The US Senate would remain as currently elected. It would retain its authority over things that appear to be of interest to the states including:

—Approval of treaties with foreign governments (including Trade agreements).
—Advice and consent of Presidential executive and judicial branch appointments.
—Oversight of the Executive and Judicial branch activities.
—Declaration of war (Initiate)
—Trying impeachments

These authorizations would be exclusive to the Senate.

It would also be provided the opportunity to advise and comment on legislation approved by the House of Representative.

The House of Representatives would have the exclusive right to initiate and approve any legislation and the Federal budget as well as any other constitutional rights it may currently enjoy. It would retain its role to impeach members of the executive and Judicial branches.

In addition, the Senate could be granted an enhanced role in supervising foreign affairs and foreign military activities and intelligence.

Appointments to the Supreme Court would require a majority vote of both houses of Congress except that the Senate will initiate the process and the House would be limited to only and up or down vote of the nominee approved by the Senate.

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