Photo credit: Mother Jones
The End of the Filibuster and the Death of the Senate
Say what you like about Newt Gingrich, he is a savvy observer of DC politics. His recent email message is titled, ominously, "The Death of the Senate." It’s difficult to argue with his assessment, despite its pessimism [note: no link, since it arrived in an email]:
No one should be confused about what happened yesterday.
The Obama Democrats killed the United States Senate as a deliberative body 226 years after the Founding Fathers created it.
The use of a simple majority to change the Senate rules and eliminate the filibuster on judicial nominees and other appointments--a device that made getting 60 votes a practical necessity--was a decisive first step toward reducing the Senate to a body that operates by simple majority.
The Democrats have tried to argue that they killed the filibuster only for a handful of presidential nominees. But in fact they’ve killed a tradition that had survived more than two centuries. There will be no principle to stand on to block controversial appointments or legislation in the future.
This is a big deal, and it will change the culture of the Senate profoundly. And the Obama Democrats understood exactly what they were doing.
In 2005 as a senator, Barack Obama himself said that “everyone in this chamber knows that if the majority chooses to end the filibuster, if they choose to change the rules and put an end to democratic debate, then the fighting, the bitterness, and the gridlock will only get worse.”
The same year Senator Joe Biden said, “We should make no mistake. This nuclear option is ultimately an example of the arrogance of power. It is a fundamental power grab by the majority party… We have been through these periods before in American history but never, to the best of my knowledge, has any party been so bold as to fundamentally attempt to change the structure of this body.”
He called it “the single most important vote” he had cast during his three decades in the Senate.
He said “I pray God when the Democrats take back control, we don't make the kind of naked power grab you are doing.”
Senator Harry Reid himself praised the filibuster at the time, lauding it as “far from a procedural gimmick.” It is, he said, “part of the fabric of this institution we call the Senate.”
That is what Senator Reid and the other Obama Democrats destroyed yesterday, fully aware of the permanent damage they were causing in order to achieve fleeting political goals.
That trade of long-term stability for short-term gain is exactly the opposite of the wisdom the framers of the Constitution intended for the Senate (a big part of the reason the body exists in the first place). The Founders were worried that the House, with its frequent election cycles and small Congressional districts, would be shortsighted, easily impassioned, and unaccountable for the ultimate consequences of their decisions.
The Senate was supposed to guard against this danger, as a “temperate and respectable body of citizens...to suspend the blow meditated by the people against themselves, until reason, justice, and truth can regain their authority over the public mind,” as Madison put it in Federalist 63. It would do so by making decisions for the long term, he thought--“well-chosen and well-connected measures, which have a gradual and perhaps unobserved operation.”
Until yesterday, the filibuster was one such device--an important protection which for centuries had been inviolable.
Harry Reid and the Obama Democrats’ reckless decision to kill it will change the Senate forever.