The Senate Ignored Us

Why Popular Policies Die in the Senate

The problems with the current Senate rules — namely the abuse of the filibuster by Republicans — are well known. Less well understood is how the Senate by design empowers the residents of small states at the expense of residents of larger states. This fact explains why a policy like background checks that enjoys the support of over 90 percent of Americans can still be killed in the Senate through a combination of filibuster abuse and the Senate’s bias toward small states.

ThinkProgress’ Ian Millhiser explains how this worked in the case of last night’s shameful Senate vote against expanded background checks:

To put this in perspective, Wyoming Sens. Mike Enzi (R) and John Barrasso (R) both voted against the gun safety provision. Together, they represent a little more than half a million people. California Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D) and Barbara Boxer (D) both voted for gun safety. They represent over 38 million Americans. In other words, a voter in Wyoming enjoys 66 times as much representation in the Senate as a voter in California.

As the least populous state, Wyoming makes out like bandits when it comes to Senate representation, but they are far from alone in enjoying such a windfall. A voter in Idaho (population 1,595,728) counts as almost 24 Californians. A voter in Nebraska (population 1,845,525) counts as nearly 21 Californians. And a voter in North Dakota (population 699,628) counts as more than 54 Californians. Indeed, if you add up the combined populations of Wyoming, North Dakota, Alaska, Idaho, Nebraska, Utah, Kansas, Arkansas, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Kentucky, South Carolina, and Alabama, that still adds up to over 3 million fewer people than live in the state of California. That also adds up to 26 senators, all of whom opposed background checks.

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