The Senate is terrible, and it’s all CT’s fault | #schoolshooting



Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy is unavoidable lately. He’s been taking a nationwide victory lap over an apparent deal with Republicans on gun safety legislation, and it’s well-deserved. Progress in the Senate is so hard to come by, and the institution itself so degraded, that every step forward is worth celebrating.

“Less than they wanted but more than they expected” — that’s how Senate Democrats are describing the deal, even at a time when Democrats ostensibly control all levers of lawmaking power in Washington. It’s a mismatch between goals and realistic expectations the country has never been able to solve.

We should remember, too, what it took to get here and how fragile the progress is — as of this writing, its framers were starting to talk pessimistically about its passage. Still, we can acknowledge a step forward, but no one is wrong to expect better.

The impetus for the reforms was the tragedy in Uvalde, Texas, which came nearly 10 years after an eerily similar crime in Connecticut. That elementary school shooting, which shocked the nation in 2012, was not enough to spur the federal government to change gun laws, but it wasn’t because it lacked popular support.

The push for a new federal gun safety law after Sandy Hook fell short even as 54 out of 100 U.S. senators voted in its favor. That wasn’t enough.

For any bill to pass the Senate, it has to clear a 60-vote threshold; otherwise, it will die via filibuster. This is not, despite what some senators might say, how the Founders intended it. The filibuster and the rules that govern its use are entirely up to the Senate itself, which could reduce or eliminate its minimum vote requirements anytime it chose to do so.

Senators won’t do it, or at least not enough of them. The Senate itself is the problem. It’s one we are stuck with, all thanks to something that might be remembered from grade school called the Connecticut Compromise.

There were dozens of stumbling blocks along the road to creating a country out of 13 colonies that had little in common other than coastal geography. Among the most serious was the question of representation in the legislature, and it’s one that has still not been satisfactorily answered. Big states wanted population to be the determining factor, arguing that people mattered above all, while others wanted each state to have an equal say in decision-making.

The logjam was broken by Roger Sherman, of Connecticut, which was then as now roughly in the middle in terms of population. The solution became our bicameral system, where the House of Representatives would be determined by population and the Senate by equal representation among the states. It’s not, in the end, much of a compromise — since any new law has to pass both bodies, the small states still get outsized sway. But it cleared a path through some of the nation’s tortured early days.

Sherman later made matters worse by protecting the makeup of the Senate from amendment unless every state agreed to it. When you decry the lack of progress on meaningful legislation throughout most of American history, thank Connecticut.

Things have changed a bit since that time, but the Senate remains, with all its shortcomings: Texas and Vermont, for example, are equally represented — Bernie Sanders, representing roughly 624,00 people, has the same vote as Ted Cruz, who has 28.6 million constituents. Make of that what you will.

Connecticut’s senators are doing the best they can with the situation we’re in. The gun reform package includes some good steps, like expanding background checks so that domestic violence records are included. Since domestic violence is so often a precursor to mass shootings, this is a necessary, overdue step (and the section that seems to be producing Republican backlash). Other reforms include new spending for mental health and school security, and incentives for states to pass “red flag” laws to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people.

But we don’t need to pretend the package isn’t extremely narrow.

Because at the same time, the U.S. House, which is also flawed but more accurately reflects the population, passed a bill to raise the purchasing age of semi-automatic firearms to 21 and outlaw high-capacity magazines for civilian use, among other measures. Such changes could make a real difference in constant explosion of mass shootings around the country, but of course are destined to go nowhere in the Senate. They could never clear the 60-vote threshold.

The Senate is the problem. Our own representatives there, no matter how well-meaning, cannot change that basic dynamic. The Senate is the greatest obstacle to meaningful change in a political system already full of roadblocks and stumbling points. It is nearly impossible to get anything important through its maddening system, even in a country with new crises around every corner.

And the way things have been going, that will never change.


Hugh Bailey is editorial page editor of the Connecticut Post and New Haven Register. He can be reached at hbailey@hearstmediact.com.



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