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Joanne98 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Aug-23-09 03:52 PM
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The Problem of the Small State Senator by mcjoan

The Problem of the Small State Senator Sun Aug 23, 2009 at 01:00:04 PM PDT

In the ongoing red state/blue state, small state/big state public opinion tussle, the small states have been on the losing end lately, with small state Senators having huge influence on two major pieces of legislation, influence that is either significantly weakening, and even threatening to kill, those bills. That leaves plenty of people wondering how it is that a handful of senators who represent a tiny fraction of the nation's population get to decide for all of us. But I think the real question needs to be whether that tiny fraction of the nation's population is really being represented, and if not, what are they going to do about it.

Wyoming's Senators are starting to talk tough on killing cap-and-trade legislation recently passed in the House of Representatives. That'll mean Mike Enzi will have to take some time out of his schedule killing healthcare reform, which he has been pursuing mightily for months, along with colleagues from North Dakota, New Mexico, Iowa, Maine, and of course Max Baucus from Montana. A handful of Senators, representing less than three percent of the nation's total population, have the ability to obstruct must-pass legislation that the rest of the nation is clamoring for. That is, unless another small state Senator, Harry Reid, decides to bypass them.

The nation's founders intended the Senate to be the deliberative body, the careful body that would provide the check on the unruly mob that the House would likely become on the one hand, and the potential tyrant the executive might become on the other. What we ended up with is the least democratic body in our republic. It means that, as Nate Silver points out, "A voter in Wyoming -- population 533,000 -- has about 70 times more ability to influence the Senate's direction than one in California -- population 36.8 million."

That means that cap-and-trade legislation that could achieve a 17 percent carbon reduction for a cost of about $7 per household per month, $83 per year, could end up totally eviscerated in the Senate, keeping the United States on track as an unrepentant world polluter, using the convenient excuse of, "yeah, well, China is worse."

"There's nothing good about it," said U.S. Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo. "I'm going to do everything to make sure it doesn't pass."

U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., said the bill is "the biggest hidden tax in America."

"It's a Ponzi scheme because we're just going to print certificates for CO2 and not take care of any CO2," Enzi said. "It's just another way to make money."

Note that these remarks were made before the industry trade group, the Petroleum Association of Wyoming. Note also that Mike Enzi is the number one recipient of PAC money in terms of percentage in the Senate since 2003. Interestingly, the bill is extremely friendly to coal, making one wonder what Senators Enzi and Barrasso would say if they were speaking before a coal mining association. It's a deeply flawed bill that can be opposed on many levelsbecause it doesn't go far enough fast enough, and because it favors certain industries, like coal, where lawmakers from coal producing states again had undo influence in the committee process.

Which brings us back to the small state conundrum. There is something fundamentally wrong about senators who represent less than three percent of the nation's population deciding the fate of the other 97 percent. And there's a problem with a senator from a state with an experience that is so completely unlike the experience of the rest of the nation. That's demonstrated most clearly in this debate by Kent Conrad's fixation on regional co-ops. In his experience, a co-op brought electrification to his parents or grandparents. It helps the dairy farmers secure fair prices for their product. But even in North Dakota, are a plucky bunch of folks going to organize their doctors and hospitals to strike out in a new organization, breaking the stranglehold Blue Cross/Blue Shield has on the state, which holds 91% of the market?

Letting Max Baucus Kent Conrad limit the health care choices for the entire nation based on their experience in North Dakota and Montana is as irrational as it would be to have Chuck Schumer set all of the gun control policy for the entire nation, based on his experiences in New York.

That's on the merits of debate alone. When you factor in the money part of the equation, it gets more disturbing. As many Congress watchers have pointed out, most recently Peter Drier in a column reprinted at New West, "Health-related companies and their employees gave Baucuss political committees nearly $1.5 million in 2007 and 2008, when he began holding hearings and making preparations for this years reform debate." These small state Senators pull in inordinate amounts of money from corporate donors and PACs, in part because they have a small individual donor base in their home states--fewer people, fewer individual donations.

More corporate donations, higher likelihood of making policy in the interest of the corporation? It's just common sense. That's where the major problem for all Americans, particularly small state residents, comes in to play. For all of the outsized clout these Senators might have, is it in these states long-term interest to have their Senators working on the behest of corporations in the short term.

Consider Wyoming, and Enzi's and Barrasso's work to represent the petroleum and natural gas folks. Yes, Wyoming is booming now because of those extractive industries, with the high paying jobs and the royalties they bring in. What has it also brought, though? Take Sublette county, ground zero for industry. The levels of ozone in the air in the county have measured higher than Los Angeles's, with all the subsequent health problems that entails. The influx of transient oil and gas workers has created some serious social upheaval in towns like Pinedale. The groundwater has been poisoned, killing off or forcing out the area's famed pronghorn antelope herds, and causing losses for livestock owners.

Wyoming has had plenty of booms and busts in its past, in large part because of the hold extractive industries have on the state's economy, and the hold extractive industries have on the reelection prospects of the state's federal elected officials. Think about what energy legislation could mean for Wyoming in the long term, if its federal policy-makers were thinking in those terms. Wyoming potentially has it all in alternative energy resources--wind, solar, and geothermal all readily available and exploitable. Wyoming could become a key player in building a more sustainable path to economic growth not only for itself, but for the nation in creating sustainable, smart, energy production. Which the Petroleum Association of Wyoming is going to fight tooth and nail, with Enzi and Barrasso carrying their banner, and taking their PAC donations.

The same dynamic is playing out in the healthcare reform debate, where Senators from Montana, Iowa, and North Dakota, are determining the fate of us all. It's not that residents of those state don't deserve representation. Residents of small states are as equal as Americans as Californians or Floridians or New Yorkers. There's a tendency among pundits when pointing out this small state problem to be dismissive of the states themselves, the fly-over country, the states who are a tax-drain on the rest of the country. It can smack of coastal elitism. And it ignores how much we are all in this together.

But in setting up that dynamic, the lack of representation small state residents receive is rarely considered by the critics. More unfortunately, it doesn't seem to be considered by the Senators in question, either. Let's look at the state of healthcare access in some of these states. In North Dakota, 11 percent of the population is uninsured; in Montana 16 percent; in Iowa, it's 10 percent.

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Demeter Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Aug-23-09 08:42 PM
Response to Original message
1. I Really Liked the Scheme To Merge All the Small Pop. States into One
Which would reduce the size of the Senate, and redistribute the House seats more equitably amongst the states with larger populations. Say goodbye to Wyoming, Idaho, North and South Dakota, Montana, Nebraska and hello to Grumpystan. Perhaps we can even throw together Utah, Nevada and New Mexico, to form lower Grumpystan.

Then perhaps North and South Grumpystan can lure all like-minded whackos into their territory. Then we can secede from them.

If necessary, we can also lump some small Eastern states together: Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine, for example, as an offset. Given the major differences between these three in character and outlook, may the best group win! (I'd root for Vermont, home of the Good Doctor).

Say that 3 million people, minimum, are needed to form a state. Think of all the hereditary assholes such a plan would eliminate from public office!
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Igel Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Aug-24-09 01:27 PM
Response to Original message
2. I have a rather quirky view:
The Senate is the body that filibusters the House.

Both aim at a kind of defense of the minority from the tyranny of the majority.

I've seen views of "democracy" around here--sometimes, not even daily--that are truly democratic, but far from being Democratic. Democracy has a lot of variants, mob rule being one of them. My stock example is that in a pure democracy 50% + 1 of the electorate could decide that all blacks (or any other minority, or any other group that doesn't vote in sufficient numbers) should be immediately stripped of all property and rights and become property. A perfectly democratic process, and in some cases what's been proposed by "progressives" has absolutely no impediment to such an action's being taken, apart from the beneficence and enlightenment of the majority.

Some of these same people, however, are convinced that the masses are idiots. So, yes, they really want to have a mass of idiots given absolute political and legal power, if they thought it through. (Then again, they're probably part of the masses themselves.)

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bemildred Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Aug-24-09 01:35 PM
Response to Reply #2
3. No form of government, including democracy, guarantees fair and just rule.
Demagoguery is ubiquitious in all forms of government. It is fair enough to point that out, and the concern is real whichever form of government one has, but it is unfair to single out democracy as more dangerous or more prone to that sort of thing than any other form. For example all X can be declared slaves under any other form of government, and it has happened more times that way than under democratic rule.
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ParkieDem Donating Member (417 posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Aug-25-09 06:18 PM
Response to Original message
4. I don't think the Founders
ever envisioned the huge discrepancies that would develop among state populations.

When the Constitution was signed, Virginia (the largest state) had 12 times as many people as Delaware (the smallest state). Today, California has 70 times more people than Wyoming.

Also, the Senate was made up of appointees from state legislatures then, and not directly elected. In this time, it acted more as a "rubber stamp" on House legislation.

Unfortunately, there's not much we can do to change this. Any amendment to the Constitution would require, you guessed it, consent of many small states who are not going to even think about yielding some of their power.
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Recursion Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Aug-25-09 08:24 PM
Response to Original message
5. Sadly, Enzi is right about cap & trade
It's a Ponzi scheme; a way for wall street firms to make money again without actually reducing the amount of carbon we produce.
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Union Yes Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Aug-25-09 09:01 PM
Response to Reply #5
6. I hope this C&T legislation is a stepping stone to a better bill. Like a PO is towards Single Payer.
That's my hope anyway. Hope is all I got left.

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