10/17/2007 03:26 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Dems Fume About the Tyranny of the Tiny Minority

The Hill Newspaper has an interesting story today about how House Democrats, led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, are fuming over the U.S. Senate's tyranny of the tiny minority -- the situation which I mathematically detailed a few weeks ago whereby a tiny segment of the population has the Senate representation to stop anything. The Hill says there is "a deepening frustration among House Democrats, who are irritated with lack of progress in the Senate and are starting to publicly press their Senate counterparts to stop letting Republicans use procedural tactics and instead force Republicans to carry out a filibuster, if that's what it takes."

I (obviously) agree with that, and have said repeatedly that one of the most important methods to counter this tyranny is for progressives to focus a hell of a lot more time on state legislatures where there is no filibuster and where Democrats have, in many cases, more power to pass things. That is apostasy to some in Washington, but it is a mathematical necessity, as the Hill article and the raw numbers so clearly elucidate.

Beyond that, though, you will notice that the House Democrats have not said that Senate Democrats could use the filibuster for the progressive agenda. For instance, Senate Democrats could filibuster any Iraq war spending bill that is a blank check with no provisions to end the war. Remember the whole "nuclear option" terminology in the Senate? That derived from the fact that the filibuster is a sort of mutually assured destruction - that is, both sides can use it if they want. One of the big problems is that only one side seems genuinely interested in using it.

Another huge problem is that Senate Democrats have empowered people like Montana Sen. Max Baucus (D) to chair panels like the Finance Committee -- the most powerful panel in the Congress, which oversees tax, trade and health care policies. The story explains why that is a problem:

"Looking ahead, Democrats in the lower chamber see more unpalatable compromises on issues like tax policy, where they are disappointed to see their goals in the hands of cautious centrist Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.). House Democrats say on tax issues, they are constantly told that nothing can get off the ground unless nine or 10 Republican senators will agree to it. 'Everybody says, 'What can we get in the Senate?'' explains Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.). 'So we have to go over to Max Baucus with hat in hand.'"

Again, Senate Democrats have made a deliberate decision to put Baucus in that position. Sure, he has seniority, but it is the collective decision of the Senate Democratic Caucus to put him in that position. You may recall a few years back that House Republicans installed Rep. Bill Thomas (R-CA) as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee over the more senior Rep. Phil Crane (R-IL). Democrats could do the same -- but they refuse for many reasons, not the least of which is that Baucus and his behavior helps the party raise huge amounts of corporate cash.

So I give Pelosi and House Democrats credit for raising the issues surrounding the tyranny of the tiny minority. I hope it puts pressure on Senate Democrats to get serious, especially considering a new poll out showing that the Democratic Congress's approval ratings continue to plummet. But just remember, there are powerful forces in Permanent Washington that want to preserve the gridlock and that love the tyranny of the tiny minority. Some of these forces are right within the Democratic Party itself, as I will show in my next nationally syndicated newspaper column, out this Friday. Stay tuned.

Cross-posted from Working Assets