The Filibuster is Essential for Democracy

The filibuster is essential for democracy, because it protects Americans from a tyranny of the majority, whether that majority be Democrats or Republicans.  Right now, liberals are angry at Congress because Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was not allowed to steamroll the minority party, and moderates within his own caucus, to pass a version of ObamaCare with a public option.  The left wants to exterminate the only remaining tool for individual members of the Senate to slow down legislation.

It isn’t enough for liberals to control 60 votes in the Senate, have an overwhelming majority in the House and the Presidency for the next 4 years.  Now they are messaging to get rid of the Senate filibuster, so they can cut out moderate Democrats.  They want the Senate to be run like the House — with minimal participation by the minority party.  I bet these same liberals would be very upset if Republicans had changed the rules during the Bush Administration to expand tax cuts, set up private accounts to wean citizens off Social Security and cut federal spending on government waste (think ACORN).  Liberal columnist for the Washington Post, Ezra Klein, writes today:

The modern Senate is a radically different institution than the Senate of the 1960s, and the dysfunction exhibited in its debate over health care — the absence of bipartisanship, the use of the filibuster to obstruct progress rather than protect debate, the ability of any given senator to hold the bill hostage to his or her demands — has convinced many, both inside and outside the chamber, that it needs to be fixed.

By “fixed,” the left means eliminated so that they can throw moderate members of the Democrat caucus under the bus.  Senators Ben Nelson (D-NE), Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.) and Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) would have had no input into the Senate version of ObamaCare without a mechanism for Senators to extend debate. Somehow Republicans are to blame for the lack of bipartisanship and for Democrat Senators use of the rules to remove objectionable portions of the health care bill.  For Klein, the Democrat caucus in the Senate, including a Socialist and an Independent-Democrat, is far too conservative because it did not take up and pass a version of ObamaCare with a public option. 

Klein wrote that “this was a test of whether a party could govern when everything was stacked in its favor” and concluded “not really.”  Klein went on to complain:

And Democrats still could not find a single Republican vote, which meant they had to give Nebraska a coupon entitling it to a free Medicaid expansion and hand Joe Lieberman a voucher that’s good for anything he wants. If the Senate cannot govern effectively even when history conspires to free its hand, then it cannot govern.

First of all, Senator Harry Reid decided to put the Nebraska provision in the bill to buy a vote for cloture.  Can’t blame the Senate’s rules for that situation.  Klein’s complaint about Nelson of Nebraska and Lieberman’s use of the Senate rules to get what they want is no reason to get rid of the filibuster.  Because Klein’s beloved Democrats could not get everything they wanted after months of closed door meetings and no effort to include Republicans, the filibuster has become the reason for public option failure. 

Klien quotes a Republican complaining about the filibuster:

In 2005, Senate majority leader Bill Frist nearly shut the chamber down over the Democratic habit of filibustering George W. Bush’s judicial nominees. “This filibuster is nothing less than a formula for tyranny by the minority,” he said at the time.

It think it is time for conservatives to distance themselves from the Republican attempts to impose the so called “Constitutional Option” to abolish the filibuster for judicial nominees.  That argument was based on a flawed logic that, although the Senate consititutionally sets it’s own rules, another provision in the constitution can be interpreted to claim that the filibuster does not apply to judicial nominees.  The theory was based on the idea that the Senate, through the use of a simple majority, could change the rules of the Senate by ignoring the letter of the Senate’s rules, to set a precedent exempting nominations from the filibuster rule.  Thank goodness Republicans never went further down that path or they would be paying a high price right now.  With all due respect to the former Leader, Senator Bill Frist was wrong and not all conservatives supported the idea that the filibuster did not apply to nominations. 

The filibuster is nothing more than a tool to allow the minority to have the right to extend debate.  If one understood the Senate rules, they would remember the famous movie, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, where one Senator was allowed to talk until he dropped.  The Senate got rid of that tradition and rule.  Now Mr. Smith can be shut up if 16 Senators sign a petition and 60 Senators vote to shut off debate after two days.  A filibuster is 60 Senators saying that they are going to limit debate — nothing more and nothing less.  If the majority can’t get 60, then nothing prevents them from trying to shut down debate again with a new cloture petition.  The only way a failed cloture vote becomes a vote that kills a bill is when the majority fails to file cloture again and again to shut down debate.  A filibuster does not kill legislation, the will of the majority not to force vote after vote to shut off debate does. 

President Barack Obama, a man who as Senator participated in Democrat filibusters of Bush judicial nominees, is now changin his position on the filibuster.  According to TPMDC:

“[A]s somebody who served in the Senate, who values the traditions of the Senate, who thinks that institution has been the world’s greatest deliberative body, to see the filibuster rule, which imposes a 60-vote supermajority on legislation – to see that invoked on every single piece of legislation, during the course of this year, is unheard of,” says President Obama in a yet-to-air interview with PBS.

The President must have a short memory, because he participated in filibusters during his short time in the Senate.  Paul Krugman in the New York Times repeats the absurd argument that, notwithstanding the passage of ObamaCare in the Senate, our legislative process is broken because the left didn’t get everything they wanted:

And the fact that it was such a close thing shows that the Senate — and, therefore, the U.S. government as a whole — has become ominously dysfunctional. After all, Democrats won big last year, running on a platform that put health reform front and center. In any other advanced democracy this would have given them the mandate and the ability to make major changes. But the need for 60 votes to cut off Senate debate and end a filibuster — a requirement that appears nowhere in the Constitution, but is simply a self-imposed rule — turned what should have been a straightforward piece of legislating into a nail-biter. And it gave a handful of wavering senators extraordinary power to shape the bill.

The bottom line is that the liberals want to change the rules so they can completely ignore Blue Dog Democrats in the House, moderate Democrat Senators and anybody with an R next to their name so they can rule without dissent.  The advocacy of the rewriting of the rules in the Senate to abolish the filibuster is the utmost in hubris and “I am smarter than you” attitude of the Obama Administration and leaders in Congress.  They want more and more power and can’t stand the fact that they can’t pass their whole left wing agenda in the first two years of the Obama Administration.  They know that their left wing legislative window is closing because next fall democracy kicks back in and likely will kick out many of the moderate Democrats in the caucus for the sins of the far left of their own party.