By Tom Tillison
With the Republican Party having the majority in the House come January, we now see a sudden interest in bipartisanship in the media. Even Obama himself has come around, urging lawmakers to work in a spirit of bipartisanship when the new House and Senate reconvene next month.
Yet, a little over a year ago when Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.) locked Republicans out of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee room, the media barely picked up on the story and Obama stood silent.
And, with the Republicans now returning with 47 seats in the Senate, all but guaranteeing the ability to filibuster at any time, we now see a Democrat effort to change the rules.
On the first day of a new session of Congress, a simple majority can vote in whatever rules it chooses, and Sens. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) are spearheading an effort to change the rules in the Senate regarding filibusters.
Under Merkley’s proposal, you could no longer filibuster the ‘motion to proceed to debate’, and amendments would be protected. A filibuster could only begin when a bill was complete and the Senate was considering a final vote on it.
Under Merkley’s bill, a sustained filibuster would also need 20 filibustering members on the floor at all times and continued discussion.
To be clear, what we are witnessing is an attempt to change the long standing Senate tradition of virtually unlimited debate. The U.S. Senate was designed by our Founding Fathers to be a more deliberative body “to restrain, if possible, the fury of democracy”, as was so eloquently put by Virginia delegate Edmund Randolph at the time. To slow the process down.
Yet, in the face of a dwindling majority, we see the Progressive wing of the Democrat Party (is there any other wing?) making a now familiar attempt to make up the rules as they go along.
This is important to understand as history shows us that it was one of the founders of the Progressive movement, President Woodrow Wilson, who urged the adoption of ‘cloture’, which allows the Senate to end a debate with a two-thirds majority vote. In 1975, the Senate reduced the number of votes required for cloture from two-thirds to three-fifths, or 60 of the current one hundred senators.
It was also during this era that the 17th Amendment passed establishing direct election of United States Senators by popular vote instead of by state legislatures.
We have heard the old adage that if we forget the past, history will repeat itself. What we are witnessing today is a power grab to advance an ideology, pure and simple. A power grab by an arrogant, condescending group of individuals who do not wish to be restrained by the confines put in place by our Founding Fathers. Individuals who feel they are superior to the greatest collection of minds in the history of human kind.
The good news for conservatives is that under current Senate rules, a rule change itself could be filibustered, and in this case votes from three fifths of Senators would be required to break the filibuster filibustering a bill to remove filibusters.
After witnessing the performance of certain Republicans this past week, the question is can Mitch McConnell find 41 GOP Senators willing to make a stand?