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The Senate

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Originally, the United States Senate was conceived as a counter-balance to the perils of democracy as posed by the United States House of Representatives. Also, originally, the Senate was elected by state legislatures, often from among their own number, thus replacing "representative democracy" with the opportunity to establish an old men's club responsible only to a good-old-boy network and whomever it was that contributed most to their campaigns. Flash forward to the present day and only one thing has changed. We now elect Senators directly, instead of having our state senators and assemblymen do it for us.

I have been trying to think of one thing, just one, that the Senate has done well since I was born. My criteria are that the Senate must have saved us from some exuberance of the House, provided otherwise unavailable wisdom in our national legislature and national polical discourse, or actually hatched a really good idea from among its 100 members and brought that good idea all the way to fruition benefitting the public in such a way as we might most of us understand that we "owe it all" to the Senate.

I cannot.

Just to refresh your memory, the Senate does not originate taxation or other revenue producing bills; the Constitution gives this honor to the House

Section 7.
All bills for raising revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives; but the Senate may propose or concur with amendments as on other Bills.
This provision gives you an idea that the democracy seekers among the Framers saw already that the Senate might easily fall into the all to familiar role of hubristic, spendthrift "elder statesmen" and not actually hear the wishes of the populace.

In fact the Senate is more of a judicial body of supposedly wise solons who act as the court in the case of the House impeaching a federal officer, or by reviewing the qualifications of persons nominated to fill important federal government positions, including the Supreme Court. The Senate also approves or disapproves treaties ... in at least one case removing the U.S. from an international organization that might have avoided WWII (and much else both before and after) had we been a member and counter-acted the short-sightedness of some of the participants.

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Lately, the U.S. Senate has become embroiled in a contest between factions which for various reasons do or do not want the federal government to insert itself (further) into the national health care quagmire. Among those who favor legislation that will wrest control of medical care from the insurance companies whose first interest is financial profit are progressives and liberals who noticed that while we were sitting around on our hands the rest of the industrialized world had provided their populations with health care systems that actually work, hold down costs, keep insurance companies at bay, and stimulate private citizens to take responsibility for healthy living.

Those against Health Care Reform either believe that the government should not compete with private industry no matter how poorly private enterprise is doing, or they are owned lock, stock, and barrel by insurance or other medical corporations. This last issue obtains most often in poorer and less populace states where the high cost of getting and staying elected cannot be borne by the citizens of the state, but must be augmented and subvened (and owned) by large donations from corporate donors.

The Senate this week is showing how much further removed it is from its role as wise council in the legislature that the Framers envisioned. Owing to its own rules of engagement and parliamentary procedure, the individual Senators are making a mockery of the few vestiges of democracy intended for that body. The vote of Republicans is being disciplined by the iron laws of blood politics, that is, Republicans are refusing, en masse, to cooperate in any fashion that could later be used to flatter or support the Democratic administration or Democratic majority in Congress. The votes of individual Democrats reveal the depth of servitude these men and women have to their owners and managers in the corporate world, and to a lesser degree the depth of servitude these folks have to obsolete and outdated ideologies.

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Nevertheless, economists like Paul Krugman believe that the majority (everyone but the corrupt and the Republicans, who may be seen as ideologically incapable and corrupt) have produced a response to the bill passed by the House that in and of itself provides needed reform ... as bad as it is having left out so many things that a responsible Senate could have produced. Krugman says the rules in the Senate must change, but first pass this bill. I agree. The Senate must reorganize or else. The "else" will be a political revolution through the ballot box or at the point of bayonets. The fact is that we no longer need a Senate as provided for in the Constitution. All they need do is continue to abuse their position and responsibilities further and we, the people, will disabuse them of their chamber, their fatcat sinecures, and their salaries, pensions, and other perquisites of "office." Enough is enough.


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James R. Brett, Ph.D. taught Russian History before (and during) a long stint as an academic administrator in faculty research administration. His academic interests are the modern period of Russian History since Peter the Great, Chinese (more...)

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