Some Republicans have been throwing around the idea of repealing the 17th Amendment to the Constitution.  This is the amendment that allows for the direct election of Senators, instead of having them appointed by State legislatures. It was passed in 1913, after decades of groups like the Populist party arguing for it.

The Republican version of American history does seem to really hinge on the year 1913.  that was the year that the power of the Federal government began to increase. In addition to the direct election of Senators, it was the year the 16th Amendment–the income tax–was passed. (This was also something the Populists had wanted.) It also was when the Federal Reserve was created, thus paving the way for  many a libertarian conspiracy theory.

I’m assuming this why the Republicans want to do this–it’s a first step towards repealing the so-called “Progressive Era”.  I think the real point they’re driving at is the repeal of the income tax, as part of a “Starve the Beast” strategy.

That said, I do actually see some reason for opposing the direct election of Senators. I don’t endorse it, but I can see some logic to it.  The Senate was supposed to be a less polarized place than the House of Representatives–the idea being the Senators could compromise with each other more than the elected Representatives in the House. Probably having the members be appointed rather than elected might decrease the amount of fighting among Senators.

This might be a good step towards reducing the gridlock in Washington, especially since the current trend is the Senate becoming more like the House, and ending up just as deadlocked.

Then again, there’s no reason to assume giving control of appointing senators back to the State Legislatures would help anything.  Whichever Party controls the legislature will just appoint their favorite cronies, and we’ll end up in the same predicament.

In addition, I don’t know how you would ever get people to vote for someone advocating this.  It essentially boils down to saying “I think you people vote for lousy candidates, and so am going to take away your ability to do so. Vote for me!”

I suppose the legislatures could call for a Constitutional convention and try to get it changed that way, though who knows what else they might end up changing in the process.  (This is another scheme the Republicans have been toying with for some time.)

The Democrats have made a change to Senate rules: now, it is no longer possible to filibuster confirmation of Presidential appointees.  The Associated Press article says:

Sweeping aside a century of precedent, Democrats took a chunk out of the Senate’s hallowed filibuster tradition on Thursday and cleared the way for speedy confirmation of controversial appointments made by President Barack Obama and chief executives in the future.

That phrasing strikes me as odd, especially the use of the word “hallowed”. Seems slanted against the Democrats.  Senator Reid seems to me to have been fairly reluctant to do this, and only finally did after having his hand more or less forced by the Republicans.

That said, I don’t like the decision. I understand why they did it, and from a short-term view, it makes sense.  But it is true that they may come to regret it in the future, as the Republicans are saying. (Unless, I guess, the Democrats change it back during the lame-duck session if they are voted out.)

Still, the Republicans are acting like the Democrats just did this for no reason, and not because the Republicans have been filibustering appointments for no reason.  Which, technically, they are allowed to do, but they are violating the spirit, if not the word, of the Senate rules.

So, it’s a real dilemma.  An insoluble one, perhaps.  The Republicans’ casual use of the filibuster has caused a breakdown in the functioning of government.  And the only thing the Democrats could think of to fix it was to break the functioning of government in a different way.  It is a bad trend.  It bespeaks a downward spiral in how the Senate works.