Even without the filibuster, the Senate is not the House

So tired of the argument that there’s really no difference between the House and the Senate if you take away the filibuster.  That, of course, is absurd.  Seth Masket lays out exactly why so:

But let’s say it [complete elimination of the filibuster] does happen. Would the Senate be just like the House?

No, it really wouldn’t, for reasons that have much to do with the way the Founders set up the two chambers in the first place. Senators are, of course, elected on six-year terms. Only a third of the Senate is up for re-election in any given cycle, automatically giving that chamber a different outlook on political accountability and vulnerability from its counterpart.

Similarly, representation is obviously very different across the two chambers. Senators represent entire states as opposed to individual districts. This gives them different perspectives from most House members’ and different incentives regarding representation. It also creates a notable representational skew toward smaller states. All House districts are of roughly equal size, while a Senator may represent as few as 500,000 people or as many as 38,000,000. A resident of Wyoming gets a lot more representation in the Senate than a Californian does…

The different sizes of the chambers are also relevant. The reason that the House has historically been a less individualistic chamber with stronger parties and committees and more stringent rules regarding legislative debates is because that’s what you have to do when you have a large deliberative chamber. Four hundred thirty five people simply can not all know each other well or conduct civilized debates without strict rules. This is a principal of large numbers rather than a commentary on declining civility. In a chamber of 100, however, where the membership is more stable, friendships, personalities, and reputations may become more relevant in organizing legislative business. The smaller chamber will always be the more collegial one and the one that allows more open debate…

For all these reasons, even a Senate run under uniform principles of majority rule would behave very differently and serve very different constituencies than the House would. Legislation would still receive a thorough airing prior to becoming law, and there would still be a bias against action in the federal government.

Yeah, that.  Somehow the Senate was quite a different body than the House before the modern abuse of the filibuster, and so it would be in a post-filibuster world.  And to suggest eliminating the filibuster only for federal judicial and executive branch nominations somehow makes the Senate “just like the House” is beyond ignorant.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

One Response to Even without the filibuster, the Senate is not the House

  1. pino says:

    Seth Masket lays out exactly why so:

    I wonder if Mr. Masket knows that the Founders didn’t setup the Senate to be elected?

    For all these reasons, even a Senate run under uniform principles of majority rule would behave very differently and serve very different constituencies than the House would.

    This would be fun to test. It would be cool to see how many times House members voted down party lines and then match that against the number of times that Senators bucked party affiliation and voted across the aisle.

    I get the feeling that there may have been more of that in the past – if you look at “Most Liberal – Most Conservative” lists gone are the days when the most liberal republican was more liberal than the most conservative democrat.

    Somehow the Senate was quite a different body than the House before the modern abuse of the filibuster, and so it would be in a post-filibuster world.

    I have not found a good source that tracks such things as the number of times the Senate Leader refuses to bring a bring a bill to the floor – or Speaker for that matter and then the number of times that the Leader fills the amendment tree cutting off the ability to offer amendments.

    Now, with all of THAT said, I hate the practice of inserting poison pill amendments or non-germane amendments.

    I don’t have any ideas on how it would work, but I wish that each chamber would have to vote on bills the other passed and that the leader of each did not have such wide latitude on deciding what will and won’t reach the floor for a vote.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: