We Need a Better Congress

Seems like a good day to re-up that the US Senate is the most countermajoritarian upper chamber among advanced democracies. (rooseveltinstitute.org/publications/f…) We ran the numbers on just how bad the Senate counter-majoritarian problem is. The tl;dr: it is bad, and getting worse.

Let’s look at a few examples of inter-state inequities over time, and how it correlated with other inequalities.

In 1900, in the height of the sky-high wealth inequalities of the Robber Baron era, Nevada’s 42,335 residents had equal Senate representation to New York’s 7.3 million, making their vote matter 172 times as much. Some say we are going through another Robber Baron era today, which the income data clearly support.

The Senate disparities are not as bad as they were historically. Today, Wyoming is only 67 times as powerful as California on a per-person basis.

But that’s little relief, because it’s going to get a lot worse — just as we will need a green transition.

As data from @theHauer shows, by 2100, a mere 431,112 people will live in Vermont. Texas, in contrast, will be the most populous state, with 66 million. This will give Vermont 154 times the senatorial power of Texas. In the @rooseveltinst report, we go through how to think about how these geopolitical inequalities do or might link up with concentrated economic power to advance the interests of elites. (rooseveltinstitute.org/publications/f…)

For this thread, let’s consider racial inequality. By 2050, according to Hauer’s projections, most Americans will be people of color. But because of the uneven geographic distribution of nonwhites, a majority of states (25) will still be majority white until 2090. So, on simple matters where a majority vote in the Senate is all that is needed, a white minority will be able to block the will of the nonwhite majority for 40 years. A decade after that, in 2100, Hauer projects that 32 states will have nonwhite majorities — which will still be two states shy of what would be needed to amend the Constitution, approve treaties, and make fundamental changes to Senate procedure. Apropos of nothing in the news (ahem), in 2100, the whitest state, West Virginia (with a 74 percent white population), will have the same senatorial representation as New Mexico (which will be more than 90 percent nonwhite). (politico.com/minutes/congre…)

In our report & in @Politico, we examined options for rebalancing Congress to get it in line with international norms, including:

Senate abolition
Filibuster reform
Splitting up states
Statehood for DC and Puerto Rico
Representation for nonstates (politico.com/interactives/2…)

And the Senate is just a part of the puzzle.

As @shamsshahrzad writes, court reform is just as needed. (rooseveltinstitute.org/2022/07/13/the…)

In short, We The People are not powerless.

We need new institutional equilibria that are up to the moment. The resulting deepening of democracy can help build trust that we can meet our biggest collective challenges. (rooseveltinstitute.org/publications/f…)

(Adapted from this thread.)

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Director, Industrial Policy & Trade, Roosevelt Institute / Roosevelt Forward. Teach, Johns Hopkins. PhD. Political scientist researching economic transitions.

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Todd N. Tucker

Director, Industrial Policy & Trade, Roosevelt Institute / Roosevelt Forward. Teach, Johns Hopkins. PhD. Political scientist researching economic transitions.