An Uneasy Case for the Filibuster Rule



As most of you students of Congressional history are aware, current Senate rules require a vote of 60 Senators to end debate on a particular piece of legislation and, thus, to allow that legislation to proceed to a vote on the Senate floor. In other words, even if the voters elect a majority of Senators of one party, that majority cannot accomplish anything unless that majority constitutes at least 60 Senators. Consequently, when the voters elected a Republican majority in the Senate, they had the temerity to think that the Senate would be able to approve some portion of the Republican Party agenda. How foolish is that?

While Americans believe that majority rules, the majority which you elected to the Senate believes that the elected majority cannot be trusted–that it can only act if a significant percentage of members of the opposing party are willing to go along with the majority’s proposal.

The GOP has consistently asserted that it could get nothing done in Washington with only a majority in the House. So we gave them a majority in the Senate. To which the Party responded, “you can’t reasonably expect us to get anything done without a Republican in the White House.” So we gave them a Republican in the White House. To which the GOP responded, “you can’t really expect us to get anything done because of the filibuster rule.” In other words, we gave them the House, we gave them the Senate, and we gave them the Presidency–but, unfortunately, we neglected to give them 60 Senate seats. Shame on the Republican voters for failing to understand how the Senate ties its own hands by adopting self-imposed rules of procedure.

The 60-vote filibuster rule is not found in the Constitution, or in any other governing document for that matter. The requirement that 60 votes are needed for cloture (a vote to end debate and to allow legislation to go to the full Senate for an up or down vote) is “a Senate rule.” A “rule!” In other words, the Senate has arbitrarily decided that it is incapable of acting based upon the will of the voters that elected its majority. By “rule” it requires the vote of up to 10 members of the opposition party to get anything done.

In effect, the Senate has approved a rule which makes it more difficult for it to act than the Constitution requires–a rule which makes it “more difficult” to carry out the will of the voters. Apparently the Senate believes that the American people are incapable of selecting a trustworthy Senate majority. Apparently the Senate does not understand its function in the overall governmental scheme of things. The Senate is designed to act as a check and balance to the House, which, by its more parochial nature, tends to represent primarily the more populous areas of the country. The Senate was not designed or intended to act as a check and balance to itself.

We sent a majority of Republicans to the Senate–so let them act like a majority. We did not ask them to tie both hands behind their backs so that a few Democrats can impede all legislative progress. We did not ask that a majority party surrender its majority status to the minority party. In fact one could reasonably argue that the filibuster rule is unconstitutional, or at least violates the one man, one vote concept, because it allows a minority to arbitrarily impede the will of the majority and otherwise dilutes the vote of any vote cast for any Senator.

So, here’s a quick fix for consideration by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Use your Senate majority to rescind the filibuster rule. Permit the voters’ selection of Republican Party Senators to mean something. Don’t senselessly cede the will of the majority of Republican voters to the opposition party.

We don’t believe that the filibuster rule serves any purpose other than to slow down the implementation of legislative action demanded by the American people. If Republican leadership (the term rapidly becoming an oxymoron) believes that the filibuster rule serves some redeeming legislative purpose (other than to prevent the Senate from acting it the best interests of the American people), now is the time for such leadership to articulate and defend its reasoning. We understand that a change in the Senate rules would benefit Democrats when they have a majority in the Senate. So what? That consequence does not alter the legitimate political construct that the winner of a political contest should have more say than the loser.

If Republican leadership continues to oppose elimination of the filibuster rule, it is time for you to stop claiming that you are unable to advance your constituents’ agenda simply because of the filibuster rule. The filibuster rule is, at best, a self-inflicted wound. The American voters are on to the Senate’s game–they understand that the filibuster rule is designed solely to prevent Senators from having to vote on controversial issues, or alternatively, to allow cast meaningless votes for matters they know will never be adopted by the full Senate. In other words, the purpose of the filibuster rule is to allow Senators to spend most of their time campaigning and to give them room to duck and cover when communicating with their constituents. The American voters don’t give a fig about self-constructed and self-imposed Senate rules. What American voters want is for the Senate to carry out their will–even if it requires the Senate to tweak some feckless and arbitrary Senate rule.

Politicians refer to elimination of the filibuster rule as “the nuclear option.” And from their perspective, it probably is “nuclear.” From their constituents’ perspective, however, it is simply representative democracy.

We are confident that the Republican establishment liked the world of politics better before social media allowed the average American to understand the arcane rules of the Senate. But time moves on even though the Senate apparently does not. Toto has pulled back the curtain revealing that each Senator is nothing more than the “wonderful and all-powerful” Wizard of Oz.


© 2017


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