Adam Liptak writes in The New York Times about the growing clout of small states to bring home federal money at the expense of large states.
Powering the small-state muscle: the fact that every state is allotted two U.S. Senators regardless of size. In addition, strategic use of filibuster rules has kept federal dollars from being distributed in proportion to population.
Fresno is cited as an example of city with great needs that largely is ignored by the feds.
Here is what Liptak writes:
Fresno, Calif., is a city of a half-million people with a long list of problems, including 14 percent unemployment, the aftermath of a foreclosure crisis, homeless encampments that dot the sun-blasted landscape and worries about the safety of the surrounding county’s drinking water.
A thousand miles away, a roughly comparable number of people inhabit the entire state of Wyoming. Like Fresno and its environs, Wyoming is rural, with an economy largely based on agriculture. It is also in much better shape than Fresno, with an unemployment rate around 5 percent.
Even so, Wyoming receives far more assistance from the federal government than Fresno does. The half-million residents of Wyoming also have much more sway over federal policy than the half-million residents of Fresno. The vote people in Fresno remember best was taken in 2007, when an immigration overhaul bill that included a guest worker program failed in the Senate. Both agricultural businesses and leaders of Fresno’s large Hispanic population supported the bill, much as polls suggested a majority of Americans did.
But the immigration bill died in the Senate after a 53-46 vote rejecting a bid to move the bill forward to final passage. Wyoming’s two senators were in the majority and California’s two senators on the losing side.
Had the votes been allocated by population, the result would have been lopsided in the other direction, with 57 votes in favor and 43 against.
Even 57 votes would not have been enough to overcome a filibuster, which requires 60. In the last few years, 41 senators representing as little as a third of the nation’s population have frequently blocked legislation, as the filibuster (or the threat of it) has become a routine part of Senate business.
Beyond the filibuster, senators from Wyoming and other small states regularly oppose and often thwart programs popular in states with vastly bigger populations. The 38 million people who live in the nation’s 22 smallest states, including Wyoming, are represented by 44 senators. The 38 million residents of California are represented by two senators.
In one of every 10 especially consequential votes in the Senate over the two decades ending in 2010, as chosen by Congressional Quarterly, the winning side would have lost had voting been allocated by population. And in 24 of the 27 such votes, the majority of the senators on the winning side were Republicans.
David Mayhew, a political scientist at Yale, cautioned that the political benefit to Republicans is “quite small as well as quite stable,” adding that it is important not to lose sight of small blue states like Delaware, Hawaii, Rhode Island and Vermont. But he acknowledged that small states of both political stripes receive disproportionate federal benefits.
Professor Frances E. Lee, a political scientist at the University of Maryland and an author of “Sizing Up the Senate: The Unequal Consequences of Equal Representation,” argues that the partisan impact of the small-state advantage is larger. “There is a Republican tilt in the Senate,” she said.
“The way Republicans are distributed across the nation is more efficient,” she added, referring to the more even allocation of Republican voters, allowing them to form majorities in small-population states. Democrats are more tightly clustered, especially in large metropolitan areas.”
You can read the entire article here