As of today, it has been 1,028 days since the U.S. Senate last passed a budget.
That’s about 20 dog years.
Imagine if you were employed in a business where one of your duties was to plan an annual budget for each upcoming year and you just decided you weren’t going to do it. And 1,028 days later, you still had not done it. Assuming your employer hadn’t already canned, assuredly you would lose your job after such a long failure. If you are a Democratic Senator, however, you not only keep your job because a majority of the people still vote for you, you get greater influence and power.
To give you an idea of how long 1,028 days is, let’s look at some historical events. Since the Senate last passed a budget on April 29, 2009, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-NV campaigned for 20 months, was reelected to the Senate and has served more than a year since his reelection. The entire Lewis and Clark expedition in the Pacific Northwest took 862 days. John F. Kennedy served 1,036 days as president before he was assassinated, only 10 more days than the Senate’s current budget failure. The Korean War lasted 1,128 days until the armistice ceased active hostilities.
If ever there was a time for Congress to address the fiscal federal government crisis, this is it. And yet the Senate continues its intransigence even going so far as to say the Budget Control Act passed last year to deal with the debt ceiling is enough. That’s like saying it is just as acceptable for you to increase unilaterally and without any analysis your annual household budget expenditures and borrow the extra money to pay for the increase, as it is for you to actually review your income and expenditures and craft a budget based on the numbers. That might work for a year or so, but 1,028 days is far too long especially given our national debt and deficit crises, the increasingly risk to our nation’s credit rating and currency valuation, and the stagnant economy.
One big reason why we see this is most senators know their constituents will never vote them out. Do you think of senators like Reid, Kerry, Feinstein, Boxer, Schumer, Durbin, Murray, and Mikulski fear losing their seats? They and their liberal brethren might as well have life-time appointments given their constituencies. Before you point out Senator Scott Brown, R-MA taking over for Ted Kennedy, he is a rare exception who had to wait until Kennedy died–after Kennedy served in the Senate for several decades. And Brown has turned out to be a Massachusetts moderate who will doubtless face a serious election challenge from the left. So the Senate will continue not doing its job and liberals will continue to accuse Republicans of leading a “do nothing Congress.”
Now that’s chutzpah.
I have little confidence that Reid and his cronies will act with any degree of fiscal responsibility. Given President Obama’s sorry excuse for a budget proposal–not to mention his penchant for profligate spending–I have no confidence in him either. Frankly, I also don’t have much confidence in Republican House and Senate members either, outside of the few who are truly committed to cutting spending, lowering taxes and reducing the size and scope of the federal government. Meanwhile, our state and local governments are stretched increasingly thinner as the federal government takes more money, mandates more restrictions and curtails people’s freedoms. What is largely missing from the federal government’s current operating structure is a designated place at the table for the state governments to have their interests considered in the process of national governing and budgeting.
There is a crisis in the Senate that must be changed. Now is time to repeal the Seventeenth Amendment.
The Seventeenth Amendment states in essence that senators are to be elected by popular vote. Previously, Article I, Section 3 of the Constitution vested in each state legislature the power to appoint its two senators. Now if you are conservative, and tend to favor a smaller, decentralized federal government with more power, liberty and freedom in the hands of individuals and state and local governments, you might question the wisdom or merits of repealing the Seventeenth Amendment since it gives additional power to voters. Yes, the power ended up with the people but it was taken from the state legislatures, leaving the states with no institutionalized legislative voice at the federal level.
When the Founding Fathers were considering language for our Constitution regarding the make up, function and election of legislators, they debated the issue of how to balance federal and state sovereignty while ensuring federal and state governments would function with an appropriate degree of interdependency. In Federalist No. 59, Alexander Hamilton described this balancing act with recognition of concerns that states could shut down the Senate if given the authority to appoint senators. Hamilton concluded that vesting power in state legislatures to appoint senators was “an evil; but it is an evil which could not have been avoided without excluding the States, in their political capacities, wholly from a place in the organization of the national government.” In other words, states would have no political place in the federal government absent their power to appoint legislative representatives.
Hamilton’s concerns were well founded in the late 1780s. Northern free states and southern slave states distrusted each others motives and wanted to ensure equal power sharing. Sparsely populated states were concerned about the influence that more heavily populated states like New York would have if Congress had two houses with straight proportional representation. States with no claims to western lands feared losing clout to those with potential to expand territory westward. Reflecting the political climate, the Founding Fathers feared one or more states could effectively stall the Senate by refusing to appoint one or both of its senators. However, Hamilton argued that giving states the power to appoint House members every two years, instead of senators every six years, would mean, “every period of making [the House appointments] would be a delicate crisis in the national situation,” potentially resulting in the dissolution of the Union. With state representation considered vital, the best place for it was the Senate.
James Madison also addressed the issue in Federalist No. 62. Madison did not spend much time on the topic but simply recognized that state legislative power to appoint senators is, “probably the most congenial [option] with the public opinion.” He continued noting, “It is recommended by the double advantage of favoring a select appointment, and of giving to the State governments such an agency in the formation of the federal government as must secure the authority of the former, and may form a convenient link between the two systems.”
This represents a small example of the astounding brilliance of the Founding Fathers. Learned men of faith were attempting to invent a system of governance that divided power among federal, state and local governments, and the people, and strike the proper balance among them all. And this issue shows their concern for all parties with a solution that struck just such a balance. The senate would give each state government equal representation in the federal government to provide a balance against federal tyranny and, as Constitutional Convention delegate Edmund Randolph put it, “to restrain, if possible, the fury of democracy” that could arise from the House.
Vesting power in state legislatures to elect senators was not, however, without potential problem. Possible corruption loomed largest as the founders wondered whether senate positions would be bought and sold. The other primary issues were possible state collaboration to thwart Senate function and individual state legislatures deadlocking on choosing senators. None of these potential problems manifested to any significant degree to disrupt the Senate in its first century.
Meanwhile, the push to reform senate elections sputtered for more than a century. Many state legislatures had passed laws for the people to vote for Senate candidates in a non-binding advisory capacity. There developed a perception that the Senate was becoming out of touch with the people and increasingly “aristocratic.” As populism and progressive politics continued to rise in the early twentieth century, the states ultimately ceded their authority to the people by ratifying the Seventeenth Amendment and creating two “peoples” houses in Washington.
For the last century, the states have no legislative branch to represent their interests and check federal power. As a result, the balance of power has tipped dramatically in favor of federal government power. We see this in countless federal legislative acts throughout the last century including, for example, FDR’s New Deal programs and more recently Obamacare.
Repealing the Seventeenth Amendment will restore governmental balance. It will not fix all of the Senate’s problems over night but it would be a huge step forward.
Could state legislatures of today “buy and sell” Senate seats if they are returned power? Yes, but the current system is not immune from this type of corruption. One need only look at disgraced former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich (D) to see a recent example. Could states refuse to appoint senators or band together to bring Senate business to a halt? Yes, but the differences between states today in our fully developed nation are miniscule compared to the real disputes over slavery, territorial expansion and influence that existed 230 years ago. Could the Senate become an “aristocratic” body if the legislatures elect them? Frankly, it already has. It is hard to imagine a more aristrocratic legislative body than our current Senate. Many of the members listed above are among the wealthiest people in America and scores of senators of both parties accumulated their wealth while serving in the Senate.
Our economic crisis is so severe, the federal government’s power so large and unwieldy, its taxing, spending and borrowing so extravagant, that the balance of power must be reestablished. Term limits might help but even popularly elected, term-limited senators would not have motivation to represent their state government’s interests. It’s still the people who vote. Change can only come if senators are accountable to their respective state governments. Only then can the states act again as an effective counterweight to federal power.
The people have their voices represented in the House. Representatives are elected every two years so the people do not have to wait long to “throw the bum out” if they choose. A Senate that goes 1,028 days without a budget is irretrieveably broken and unresponsive to either the people that elect them every six years or the states that are supposed to share government power with the feds. It’s time for the states to regain their place of influence the way the Founding Fathers so brilliantly intended.
Repeal the Seventeenth Amendment. And impose term limits while your at it.