The Real Reason Approval Rating of Congress is in the Toilet

Can sending an independent to Congress make a difference? Probably not. The supermajority is supplanting the traditional majority vote in the Senate—distorting political representation and rendering Washington an annoying noise-making town that is about as useful as a second belly button.

Which is why the idea of an independent politician is alluring to most moderate voters. We hear it all the time: people are fed up with gridlock in Washington and a Congress that avoids compromise like the plague. The polls reflect it. The latest CBS News/New York Times poll put Congress’ approval rating at 15%, which is insanely low by pretty much any standard.

It even seems like it might make sense to send an independent to Washington. After all, if the problem is a lack of compromise, wouldn’t sending in a person to act as mediator do the trick? In our system of mostly Democrats and Republicans, the independent beckons like a knight in shining armor. But can he or she really make a difference? 

It’s not likely. 

Why? Because the two-party system isn’t the problem. It’s certainly tempting to point the finger in that direction. But we’ve had a two party system for basically our entire political history as a nation. Things have still been accomplished, such as Social Security, the GI bill, Medicare Medicaid, etc., even in the face of political division. 

The problem isn’t the parties in the system. The problem is how the parties use the system. 

Enter the filibuster. Let’s take a brief look at its history. The legislative tool (or obstacle, depending on your point of view), makes it impossible to bring a bill up for a vote in the Senate without 60 votes. Whereas a normal vote needs just a simple majority, the use of a filibuster skews the landscape of the Senate chamber and requires a supermajority.

And this is precisely why the Independent isn’t as promising as common sense might make him or her seem. If any sort of major, divisive, or important legislation really requires 60 votes to have the chance of getting passed, then what on Earth is one independent going to do about it? Unless the majority has 59 members in the Senate and our dream independent gets to cast the deciding vote, his or her influence is minimal.

And that is an enormous problem. The filibuster is an overused tool that strips the American voter of their efficacy by reducing the legislative process to a massive game of chicken. 

Voters in Maine are all amped up about their independent candidate for the U.S. Senate, Angus King, a former two-term Governor of that state. But sending one man to Washington won’t change a thing. It’s like sending Don Quixote in to slay the windmill. The broken legislative system has too much momentum to be stopped by one well-intended gentleman from New England. 

Nor, for that matter, is there much that anybody can do until we reign in the rampant abuse of the filibuster.