The ink is yet to dry on Senator-elect Scott Brown’s certification to be the 41st vote against ObamaCare and the left is readying a multi-pronged attack on the filibuster. Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Congressman Jim McDermott (D-WA) have opened up a front in both the House and the Senate to lower the threshold for Senate leadership to stifle debate and amendment. Don’t be fooled. These are merely first shots in an all out war by the left to exterminate the one rule in the Senate that makes it difficult for the Obama Administration to railroad though an unpopular left wing agenda.
The Hill reports:
Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) in the next few weeks intends to introduce legislation that would take away the minority’s power to filibuster legislation. Harkin has wanted to change the filibuster for years, but his move would come in the wake of Republican Scott Brown’s dramatic victory in Massachusetts. Brown’s victory cost Democrats their 60th vote in the Senate, and may have dealt a death blow to their hopes to move a massive healthcare overhaul. It could also limit President Barack Obama’s ability to move other pieces of his agenda forward.
The Harkin rules change would require 67 votes for passage. It is unlikely that Senators in the minority party would vote for a rules change that would erode the few rights of the minority. Especially at a time when the Obama Administration seems intent on passing ObamaCare using all means necessary to get it done. This is merely one idea in the Senate to attack the filibuster. There are other options that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has at his disposal to crush minority party rights in the Senate.
The Hill also reports that:
In the House, Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wa.) this week introduced a resolution urging the Senate to lower the filibuster threshold, adding in a statement that the legislative tactic “has begun to erode the integrity of our Democratic process.”
The House has no means to change the rules of the Senate, so this is merely a message that some House members would like to send to the House. First of all, House members, both Republicans and Democrats, institutionally hate the filibuster, because the filibuster has killed legislation favored by both R and D House members. The House members look at the Senate rules as arcane and they don’t have much respect for the fact that one member can gum up the process in the Senate. This is more of an institutional argument by House members, because the House is strictly a majoritarian body, while the Senate is not.
Republicans in 2005 toyed with the idea of abolishing the filibuster with a simple majority vote. That clearly was a mistake and many Republicans regret the day they marched down that road. The Republican Senate Leadership at the time wanted to use a very controversial parliamentary tactic to ignore the 2/3rds threshold for rules changes in an attempt to confirm a handful of Bush Administration judicial nominees. It was deemed the “Nuclear Option” by detractors and the “Constitutional Option” by supporters.
Senator Reid has bragged about his role in stopping that effort in his 2008 book “The Good Fight,” where he wrote the following:
It was just a matter of time before a Senate leader who couldn’t get his way on something moved to eliminate the filibuster for regular business and that, simply put, would be the end of the United States Senate… A filibuster is the minority’s way of not allowing the majority to shut off debate, and without robust debate, the Senate is crippled.”
Republican and Democrat Senators have both advocated for and against the filibuster at different times when it suited their needs, but now it is important for these members to respect the traditions and history of the Senate. Both parties need to take a step back and stop the mutual assured destruction of the Senate as an institution that respects unlimited debate and amendment. Senators need to fight against any ideas that would streamline the Senate procedures, because, in the end, an extermination of the filibuster rule will destroy the institution as the most deliberative legislative body in the world.
For more resources on the necessity of the filibuster, you can refer to “Filibusters and Our Founders,” The Filibuster is Essential for Democracy,” “The Filibuster is Constitutional and Essential for Freedom,” “Vice President Biden v Senator Biden on Filibuster,” and “Leftists Continue War Against Filibuster.”