Majority rule is fiction in the U.S. Senate and in matters of taxation in Idaho.
The fiction has very real consequences in the real world of lawmaking at the federal level and in community building at the local level.
The rule that allows the filibuster in the Senate is not a law and is not part of the U.S. Constitution. It is a rule that senators can change. The rule requires that 60 of 100 senators agree to end debate on an issue before a vote may occur. If just 59 or fewer agree, debate cannot be ended and the matter at hand cannot be brought to vote.
Before the rule went into place, no limit on debate existed in the Senate. Senators who wished to stop a bill could simply talk it to death.
At one time, senators had to be present on the floor of the Senate to debate—or to read the Encyclopedia Britannica—for days on end to try to kill a bill and convince colleagues to shelve it.
The sheer physical endurance required to filibuster a bill convinced senators to support a rule that if even a few of their number threatened to filibuster that a bill would not move to a vote.
Majority rule in the U.S. Senate should mean that 51% of senators should be able to end debate and pass a law. Instead, it takes 60%, a supermajority.
This strips the power of the majority and puts it squarely in the hands of the minority—the opposite of majority rule.
Since President Joe Biden took office, the Senate rule has defeated a bill that called for the right to abortion to be written into the Constitution, a voting rights bill that would have stopped race-based voter suppression, and a social spending bill that, among other things, would have expanded health care, subsidized daycare, reduced drug prices and increased clean-energy development.
The Senate has refused to change the filibuster rule even to consider the single issue of voting rights, the foundation upon which the nation rests.
Thus, the tail wags the dog.
The city of Ketchum had a similar experience this week.
Idaho law requires 60% voter approval of local-option sales taxes in resort cities. Ketchum had proposed to levy an additional 2% tax on sales of hotel and motel rooms, short-term rentals and liquor by the drink. It also wanted to increase levies by .75% on retail sales and 1% on building materials.
The $2.8 million in projected revenue would have been spent exclusively on development and support for workforce housing.
The tax measure attracted a 53% majority at the polls, but failed to clear the 60% hurdle. The measure sank, and with it went Ketchum’s best and possibly last chance to make a dent in the severe housing shortage.
The mantra that defeated the measure goes something like this: Ketchum is not glitzy Aspen. Ketchum is not the artificial town of Vail. Ketchum is not the fake cowboy town of Jackson.
However true the “is nots” may be, if the city has no way to build or acquire housing, labor shortages will continue to kill businesses and drive out working residents. Only residents with the bucks to afford luxury dwellings will remain, along with echoes of Ketchum’s former vitality.
However, the mantra will continue to be true. Ketchum will not be like other mountain resort towns, all of which found ways to build workforce housing and keep the towns buzzing.
Thus, the minority rules.
“Our View” represents the opinion of the newspaper editorial board, which is made up of members of its board of directors. Remarks may be directed to [email protected].