Wednesday, April 09, 2008

More thoughts on the 17th.

From comments at Unc's, when asked what would be different without the 17th Amendment:


There would certainly be a whole lot fewer unfunded mandates.

As it is now:
Representative:My constituents want free stuff!
Senator:Yeah! My constituents want free stuff!

As it was supposed to be:
Representative:My constituents want free stuff!
Senator:Whoah, whoah, whoah! How are we supposed to pay for all this crap back in Des Moines?

The Senate’s function as a mini 50 state UN is gone. The senator from Illinois is no longer an ambassador from the Land of Lincoln, he’s a super special long-term representative from the Land of Daley.

15 comments:

BobG said...

You're more optimistic than I am; politics being what it is, I think the senators would still be bought and paid for, and do the same things they do now. The only difference would be in how they were bribed and influenced, and to whom they owed favors.

D.W. Drang said...

Now, now, Tamara never said this change would make things perfect.

"More perfect", maybe; better, possibly; more in line with the Framers' intent absolutely.

BobG said...

I don't know if it would work any better, but trying it wouldn't hurt any.

Alan said...

I think the point that is overlooked is that without the 17th, "government" would be less efficient, and would do less.

The 17th amendment was a major plank of the populist party. The populists were in favor of the federal government doing things, and Senate beholden to states rights was in the way. By changing to direct election the populists hoped to elect more populist Senators.

All you have to do is look at the behavior of the Senate prior to the 17th, then after ratification.

Stan said...

Anybody stop to think that perhaps, just maybe, in some weird sort of democratic sort of way, that the constituents are the ones to blame?

Earl said...

Of course I am to blame, I wasn't alive then and so too future to vote. And now? well, I am old and cynical, and my vote doesn't count because the people that should be representing me and working for me - have jobs and lives they don't want to leave to take care of Iraq, Iran and Communist China and former Red Russia. The ones that want the job just want to handle my little problems like guns, gals and gosh-all-mighty!

Gattsuru said...

I doubt that'd be the case. For starters, the Senate can't come up with funding, so they usually don't care about funding sources. That's the House of Representatives' job to them.

The House of Representatives don't care, because they're two years away from being kicked out if they don't do what the constituents want, while coming up with the pay can be put off significantly longer.

In fact, unless the Senate's going to get the debt up their kiester in less than six to eight years, I don't exactly see what major influence that'd provide. After all, even before the 17th, these folk were just set up by the local legislature, and they weren't exactly going to get off free from the local election system just because the man would do stuff far away.

Tam said...

gattsuru,

An "unfunded mandate" is when Congress passes a law that the states are stuck paying for. Take the Brady Bill, for instance. As originally passed it was a burden on state and local law enforcement, passed by the federal congress, with no concern for how the states were supposed to fund or implement it.

If the senators are answerable to the statehouses rather than American Idol viewers, that ain't going to fly. Yes, the House has control of the purse strings, but laws that can compel the states to spend money must pass the senate.

D.W. Drang said...

alan said: I think the point that is overlooked is that without the 17th, "government" would be less efficient, and would do less like it would be a bad thing.

Anonymous said...

So what was the reason for the change.

The current system may have its problems but was the old system worse?

geekWithA.45 said...

Actually Tam, I think what you're saying is only partially correct.

Prior to the 16th amendment, the FedGov's primary source of funding was the States, and under -those- circumstances, the States's Representatives, the Senators, would actually have a tangible motivation to object.

Post 16th amendment, of course, the FedGov's primary source of funding was the people.

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that these two factors were *designed* to work hand in hand.


"He who has the gold makes the rules"

Gold = Money = Power.

Prior to the 16th amendment, this power was widely distributed, under the mattresses of the people.

Now, it is highly concentrated, and the game has been dramatically changed from a carefully balanced separation of powers to a free for all from the goodies spilling out of the pinata.

gattsuru said...

Ms. Tam, I don't think I understand what layer of difference that's supposed to have caused.

There are some very, very bad unfunded mandates out there -- EMTALA would be the best example, as would a few minor parts of the ADA -- but I don't see many unfunded mandates maiming the states to a particularly high level. There are some bad ones, but the problem is that all of them are also so politically popular locally that refusing to support them would just as certainly cause the Senator to lose his position in six years just as assuredly.

As for the history of things:

The movement started to get a lot of popularity in the 1850s, after the political movements around the start of the civil war made it not only easy but politically necessary for some local groups to cripple the election of senators. Corruption was often cited, and in some cases it was much easier to corrupt a single important local legislator than the Senator, while putting around enough power to make or break a Senator. Some of these choices were 'good' -- racist Democrats blocked by good local legislators -- but as many or more were the inverse. Around the turn of the century, there were states that actively prevented any senator from being sent up to D.C. for several years.

It's irritating today when Boston ensures that the rest of Massachusetts is stuck with Ted Kennedy. It was even more so when a single local legislature official could make sure that Zell Miller wasn't going in as well.

GunGeek said...

So, why don't the states have the same sort of bicameral legislature that the feds had pre-17? Wouldn't it make sense to have the states split theirs up as one body of elected representatives, one for each so many people, and one body of selected representatives, one from each county?

Can you imagine what kind of a difference that would make in a state like California where you've got a relatively small number of counties that contain a huge number of liberals?

Rob K said...

A better system might be to do something like an electoral college for senators, but at the county level. I think that would achieve the desired affect.

CGHill said...

"So, why don't the states have the same sort of bicameral legislature that the feds had pre-17? Wouldn't it make sense to have the states split theirs up as one body of elected representatives, one for each so many people, and one body of selected representatives, one from each county?"

The Supreme Court will not hear of such a thing. In 1964, the Court ruled 8-1 in Reynolds v. Sims that if a state has two houses, they must both be apportioned on the basis of population, otherwise it's a violation of the equal-protection clause of the 14th Amendment.

Not as dread as Dred Scott, but bad enough.