Washington Gridlock

Anyone who has ever driven in Washington DC during rush hour, especially when parkways take on a literal meaning, know they never want to drive there during rush hour again if they do not have to. Washington gridlock traffic, as bad as it is, is a metaphor for legislative bills trying to pass between the US House and Senate.

According to the Washington Post,[1] the number of bills passed, by the current House of Representatives that have not been taken up by the Senate, is about average with other sessions of Congress going back many decades, but it is the magnitude of issues that go unaddressed most Americans find exasperating. For example, the House and Senate have passed bills such as renaming post offices, but have avoided passing a budget, revising the tax code, dealing with immigration or addressing the growing global terrorist threat. As a result of this legislative gridlock on vital issues, Congress has achieved one of the lowest approval ratings in their history and earned the title “the do nothing Congress.”

Many Americans shake their head or fists in disgust at this gridlock while they entrench themselves behind their political party’s line, as the parties play the blame-game by pointing fingers across the aisle. Yet, the actual cause of this legislative gridlock is the 62nd Congress passing the 17th Amendment during their second session on May 13, 1912. The 17th Amendment altered the electoral process  which framers of the Constitution established for US Senators and it was this act that started the ball rolling to disrupt the balance in Congress which has led to the gridlock everyone gets to enjoy today.

Due to the 17th Amendment, the US House is now the only part of Congress that somewhat accurately represents the multitude of constituencies across the United States, because the US Senate now disproportionately represents the interests of urban areas over rural ones. In this lies the cause of the legislative gridlock we see between the House and Senate on vital issues in our present “do nothing Congress”, because it is a battle between the political will of the majority of American constituencies against that of the majority living in urban areas.

The 17th Amendment, allegedly ratified on April 8, 1913, changed Senators from being appointed by State legislatures to being elected via popular vote in each State, thus moving America one step closer to being a democracy instead of the republic our founders created on our behalf.

In a democracy, only the commonly held opinion of the majority matters, whereas in the constitutional republic our founders passed to us the voice of all constituencies mattered such that winning candidates of any political race were obligated to be mindful of minority interests as long as their interests did not violate the Constitution.[2]  Benjamin Franklin explained the difference between a democracy and a republic in this manner, “Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch. Liberty [a republic] is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote.”

On the surface, electing Senators via popular vote may sound good, because it gives the people of each State more direct say on who gets to represent them in the Senate, but democracy is another word for mob rule and by electing Senators via popular vote, rural areas of each State are overruled by the more densely populated urban mobs. US Senators were originally appointed by State legislatures to represent the interests of their State not the too-often irrational exuberance of the majority in their State.

State legislatures are composed of representatives from every constituency in each State, so when State legislatures appointed US Senators, the voice of all State constituencies were represented. State popular votes, on the other hand, represent only the majority in each State, which is mostly divided by the environment in which people choose to live, urban or rural. People who live in urban areas have a completely different world view than those who live in less populated areas where the urban world view tends towards dependency on others while the rural world view tends towards self-reliance.

The plot thickens on Washington gridlock when people understand US Representatives, who compose the members of the House, are elected in congressional districts that more closely represent the constituencies of each State like that of State legislatures. In other words, prior to the 17th Amendment, the US House and Senate were more in alignment on issues, because they both represented the majority of constituencies across the nation.

The preference of urban dwellers in selecting Senators is important, but it is no more important than the preference of those who live in less populated areas and the 17th Amendment disenfranchised people in rural areas from the Senate electoral process.

Instead of collectively shaking our head or fists at Congress and entrenching ourselves in endless political dispute, we should unite to repeal or otherwise abolish the 17th Amendment. By repealing or abolishing the 17th Amendment, we the people can restore a level of legislative harmony between the House and Senate that will better represent the voices of all constituencies in America and at least significantly reduce, if not somewhat abolish, one form of Washington gridlock.

[1] Bump, Philip, “Yes, the Senate is ignoring hundreds of bills passed by the GOP House. But it has always been that way,” The Washington Post, August 8, 2014.

[2] American Founding Principle, Restoring the Electoral College, October 3, 2012.

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2 thoughts on “Washington Gridlock

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