Mitch McConnell Should - But Won’t - Adopt Harry Reid’s Rule

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Republicans have seen how Democrats intend to act as the minority party in the Senate, continually blocking bills to thwart the majority.  It is time for [mc_name name=’Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’M000355′ ] to change the Senate rules, just like [mc_name name=’Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’R000146′ ] did last year for the Democrats when he was in charge, to immediately suspend the filibuster rules.  In fact, McConnell should go beyond Reid’s rule, which Reid limited to judicial nominations and a few other matters, by applying a majority vote to every matter.

The latest showdown over the Department of Homeland Security budget – and the attempt therein to defund President Obama’s executive action on immigration – highlights the need for this rule change.  It has been reported that 63 of the 100 Senators (consisting of 54 Republicans, 8 Democrats and 1 Independent) have publicly criticized the executive action.  But still, the Senate remained in gridlock on this issue.  Hiding behind the filibuster and other procedural rules that require 60 votes to move items forward, those nine Senators that caucus with the Democrats put their party over integrity.  And now, with Republicans in the House giving up the battle today by passing the DHS budget alone, these nine Senators will not be required to vote on the executive order.  They can simply spin their actions, claiming they did not want to shut down the DHS.  It is time for this hypocritical nonsense—and the resulting gridlock—to end.

When the Democrats complain about the rule change, and they will, McConnell can easily point to the hypocrisy of these very same Senate Democrats complaining about a rule change they invented.  And unlike when Harry Reid changed the rule with a fellow Democrat in the White House, this rule change is different – and does not really change the balance of power in Washington – because President Obama can still veto any bill and the Senate Democrats easily have the 34 votes needed to block an override of the veto.

If the Democrats can still effectively block the Republicans by use of Obama’s veto, why bother to change the rules? They should do so because it will allow Congress to pass single-issue bills, like revoking Obama’s executive order on immigration, forcing President Obama and every member of Congress to take a written stand on the issue.  Nobody gets a free pass on this new transparency, regardless of political party, including several Republicans in the Senate that tend to side with the Democrats, but use procedural camouflage to hide their true colors.  I am referring to the old Senate trick – where a Senator casts a “yes” vote when 60 votes are needed to advance a bill, knowing that 51 other Senators will pass the bill, so that the Senator can vote against the final bill for campaign purposes.  Both sides have done it, so it is hard to argue that changing the rules to stop it would be a partisan move.

Some Republicans will argue that “two wrongs don’t make a right” and they should act like “true statesmen” and “respect the history of the Senate” by refusing to stoop to Reid’s level.  That is like arguing that an animal rights activist should try to win the Kentucky Derby, on foot, without a horse.  In the real world, every time the Democrats execute a successful filibuster or sustain a veto, the Democrats win the public relations battle.  The media, rightfully so, paints the Republicans as a bunch of incompetent losers.  If the Republicans are going to be slammed by the media anyway, they should at least get transparency and accountability back in return.  KISS – Keep it simple, Senate.

But ultimately, and sadly, it is that very same transparency that will keep McConnell and his colleagues from changing the rules.  They might threaten it, or suggest it as a possibility, but it is illogical to conclude that enough Senators, in either party, will vote to burden themselves with a system of rules where they have to act and vote in a transparent manner.  These people love the status quo, it keeps them in power.

Dave Beltrami is a lawyer and political analyst living in Atlanta, Georgia.  He received his Juris Doctor and Master of Laws (Taxation) degrees from the Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, D.C.