How to Fix Politics: Fix the Senate

Todd Tucker
Sep 20 · 3 min read

How to Fix Politics? @Politico asked nearly 100 scholars and activists to offer their fixes.

Here’s mine: Create new Senate seats for Native Americans, as well as for the over 4 Million Americans in DC and the territories that lack voting representation. (politico.com/interactives/2…)

The congressional exclusion of so many of our citizens was on full display yesterday, as the House held its first hearing on statehood and congressional representation for DC. (vox.com/policy-and-pol…) And last month, the Cherokee Nation appointed a delegate to Congress — a seat it is entitled to under long broken treaties with the US.

But the big fixes our country needs — from the Green New Deal, to Medicare for All, to a wealth tax, to DC statehood — face an obstacle: an obstructionist and unrepresentative Senate. (washingtonpost.com/local/dc-polit…)

There are many worthy ideas out there, from the campaign by @IndivisibleTeam and others to eliminate the filibuster, to @davidmfaris’ splitting up of California, to outright elimination of the Senate. We profile those and others in this report: (rooseveltinstitute.org/fixing-the-sen…)

My proposal adds to the conversation by taking seriously some of the arguments made by people that like the Senate. @jiwallner @leedrutman @julia_azari canvass (but don’t necessarily advocate for) some of those in a podcast dropped yesterday.

Julia Azari✔@julia_azari

New podcast episode featuring me, @jiwallner and @leedrutman — should we abolish the Senate? https://twitter.com/jiwallner/status/1174668683337183233 …

James Wallner@jiwallner

Should we abolish the Senate? https://www.politicsinquestion.com/episodes/is-it-time-to-abolish-the-senate …

The arguments “for” include: 1) Having to bargain with a very powerful Senate — with long terms and empowered with unique oversight responsibilities over the executive and judicial branches — helps make government more effective, legitimate, and globally credible. The countermajoritarian Senate helps protect minority rights; and:
3) Our government is a compact of both people and subfederal units — both need a powerful voice in DC. I’ll take these in reverse order.

As scholars like @LauEEvans and many others show, contemporary federalism is about more than states: it includes tribes, a capital district, and territories. Federalism Today should include those in the Senate. (books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr…)

Going to #2, the minority rights the Senate seems best at protecting is that of rich white men. These dudes will be even more of a minority in the coming decades, but their over-representation for a century to come will cement class/racial minority rule.

Waleed Shahid✔@_waleedshahid

Can we start by calling it a House of Lords?

See Waleed Shahid’s other Tweets

As @kendrabozarth argues here, adding Senators from the majority non-white DC, territories, and tribes — individuals likely themselves to be non-white — will help ensure that our government is more representative of the country as a whole. (rooseveltinstitute.org/why-this-matte…)

Finally, on #1, the US government will look more serious at home and abroad if it manages to actually address inequality and climate change — something that Senators from these generally lower income and more climate-exposed regions might be more likely to care about and act on.

One more point: my proposal — which could be easily paired with statehood for the entities that wanted that instead — has at least potential bipartisan appeal. While DC is heavily Democratic, Native American politics and the territories are more contestable by both parties.

There’s a lot of great stuff in this @Politico special issue, including from @FeliciaWongRI @prof_mirya @HBoushey @julia_azari @leedrutman @SlaughterAM and others.

I encourage you to read them all. I know I will be! (politico.com/interactives/2…)

Todd Tucker

Written by

I write about democracy, political economy, and trade. Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute and Roosevelt Forward.

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