supermajority

  • November 7, 2011

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson, the state’s newest senator elected on a wave of Tea Party support, earlier this year lamented that during his tenure “virtually nothing” had been accomplished in the Senate.

    In that same article and others, however, Sen. Johnson articulated his view that the federal government should be heavily constrained, and limited in its ability to confront national concerns.

    But Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) says Johnson, a “first-time legislator” and “a political work in progress,” as the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel described him in July, is wrong to suggest that the country’s Founders envisioned a do-nothing Senate.

    Merkley writes in a column for The Washington Post:

    At no time did our Founders envision that the Senate would require a supermajority to pass legislation. Indeed, the Constitution requires a supermajority only for very limited purposes, including the ratification of treaties and the override of a presidential veto.

    Indeed Merkley notes that “many” Founders, including Alexander Hamilton, realized the “destructive” nature of requiring that action happen only by a supermajority vote.

    “Alexander Hamilton,” Merkley writes, “observed in the Federalist papers that a supermajority requirement has a ‘tendency to embarrass the operations of government’ and would generate ‘tedious delays; continual negotiation and intrigue; contemptible compromises of the public good.’ This characterization matches how many Americans perceive the Senate today.”

    Merkley then maps the changes from a time in the Senate when delaying tactics were rarely used to the present where “the Senate’s deliberative social contract has unraveled.”