How the US Senate Cripples the Federal Government

Kill Switch; The Rise of the Modern Senate, Adam Jentleson, 2021

Harry Reid with Jentleson

Jentleson was an aide to former Democratic Senate majority leader Harry Reid of Nevada.

James Madison

The first black slaves arrived in Virginia in 1619, one year before the Mayflower. This book is primarily the story about how white men, terrified of the possibility that they would one day be in the minority, fought a four hundred year war to assure that despite their inevitable eventual status as a minority could still find ways to maintain control of the US government. Their first attempts to create such a government resulted in the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union which went into effect in 1781. This confederation of states was so dysfunctional because of minority obstruction due to the super-majority requirements that a new basis of government was required. A convention was called in 1787 and a new form of government under the Constitution was formed in 1789. James Madison and Alexander Hamilton in the Federalist Papers called for a government based exclusively on the principal of majority rule. To get the support of southern white slaveholders (white supremacists) the great compromise was to create a senate where each state was allocated two senators serving for 6 year terms with 1/3 being elected each 2 years. In 1789 Virginia was 14 times the population of Delaware. Today California is 70 times the population of Wyoming making the US Senate the most malapportioned legislature in the world. Another part of the great compromise was to reserve super-majorities for impeachment, treaties with foreign nations, and amendments to the Constitution. The signers believed they had created a Senate where the majority ruled. Time has proved them wrong.

Slavery is a positive good John C Calhoun

In the nineteenth century, obstructionist minorities invented the filibuster to give themselves the power to defy the majority. In the twentieth century, under the banner of “unlimited debate”, southerners made the filibuster into a super-majority hurdle.

From the end of reconstruction in 1877 until 1964, the only bills that were ever stopped by filibuster were civil rights bills.

The Johnson Treatment

Lyndon Johnson and Harry Reid created leadership structures capable of making the formerly leaderless institution march in lockstep behind a leader’s agenda…Mitch McConnell paired those tools of control with the filibuster to give reactionary, wealthy, white, anti-choice conservatives (WWAC) minority veto power over everything the majority attempts to accomplish.

After two successive elections (2004-2008) in which broad, diverse majorities of voters had delivered unmistakable rejections of Republican governance, McConnell was claiming equal standing for a group of forty-one Republicans he led—of whom thirty-six were men and thirty-nine white.

Over the past few decades, changes to the Senate’s rules have meant that senators representing as little as 11 percent of the population can deliver the obstructionist agenda these white, conservative voters desire, blocking progress across most issues…This group is not just a minority, it is a super-minority.

The new rules and procedures rendered the old-style talking filibuster (Mr Smith Goes to Washington Movie 1939 James Stewart) antiquated. While there were now multiple tracks, there was still only one Senate floor. When a senator blocked one track with a filibuster, the Senate switched to another track to move forward with other business; the moving track became the main track, and the filibuster got pushed from the floor…The silent filibuster is also the result of leaders coming to rely on what are known as “unanimous consent” agreements of UCs…a UC is an all-encompassing agreement that governs every aspect of the Senate floor; when votes will occur, what amendments will be voted on, how long each vote will last, and so on.

With the UC the Senate can hold twenty votes in twenty minutes, or set the vote threshold at ten votes to pass a bill. The downside is that a single senator can block any UC.

Obama had promised to fix our broken politics, but the modern Senate made it easy for McConnell to impose gridlock.

The 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission Supreme court decision unleashed massive secretive outside money increasing midterm election funding from $70 million to $310 million, most of it flowing rightward. The 2010 midterms saw the ascendance of the disorganized Tea Party joined by the well organized and funded Koch brothers political machine.

Merrick Garland nomination

He (McConnell) had the foresight to open the floodgates to corporate cash, and to use the blockade of Garland (Obama Supreme court nominee) to unify the Tea Party base with the GOP establishment. He pioneered the blanket deployment of the filibuster, far beyond anything contemplated by previous leaders. But McConnell followed generations of white supremacist southern obstructionists who had come before him. Ever since John Calhoun set foot in the Senate, they fought against Madison’s vision of a majority ruled institution, forging new ways to impose their will on a country where progress threatened their power.