Senator Mitch McConnell in a Washington Post op-ed dated tomorrow (but on the Post’s website today) argues vehemently that the growing move to alter the Senate filibuster rules is a mistake. He points to a similar attempt in 1995, at the start of Congress—two years into Bill Clinton’s first term. “Just two months after securing a congressional majority for the first time in 40 years, Republicans strode into the Senate chamber on Jan. 5, 1995, to cast the first vote of the 104th Congress – a vote to limit their own power,” said McConnell. He states that supporting the bill would have been in the short-term interest of the majority Republicans, but they did not support it.
I would argue that you cannot compare the two scenarios: it’s like comparing apples with rotten apples. Over the last two years, the Republicans have so abused the right of filibuster; the Democrats have nearly no choice in the matter. Because the Republicans’ stated goal is to destroy the Obama presidency (rather than actually sitting down to the hard task of forging policy—it’s much easier to say “no”), the Republicans have had the Senate at a virtual standstill for two years on so many pieces of legislation it boggles the mind.
As I recall (and I was never very good at math), 51 votes equals a majority of 100. Yet, nearly every bill to come before the Senate, every procedural vote that precedes every Senate bill has been filibustered with the purpose to stall, confound and otherwise stymie the process of majority rule. I’m not talking about radical ideas here. I’m talking about bills to do with common decency, like extending unemployment benefits, like providing health care for first responders dying and becoming ill from their heroic efforts on 9/11.
The filibuster rule needs reform and it needs it now. To change the filibuster rules, the Senate has to vote on a rule change, for this is not a law, it’s a Senate rule. This rule can only be changed on the first day of a new Congress, and requires a majority vote; it cannot be filibustered, so it’s up to the Democrats. Tomorrow is the first day of the new Congress.
Do away with filibuster? Never. Change it so that we have some semblance of majority rule? You bet’cha! There are many ways to reform the filibuster rule without doing away with it. Require people to actually stand and talk, physicaly holding up the vote (ala Jimmy Stewart in one of my favorite movies, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington); limit the circumstances under which a filibuster may be initiated; limit the number (sort of like football limits the number of timeouts).
May the Democrats rue the day they did it at some future date when they are in the minority? It’s entirely possible. But things cannot go on as they have. Let the votes fall where they may.