EDITORIAL: Filibuster follies

After a lot of big talk, Senate Democrats give up on ‘nuclear option’

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The talk of ending the filibuster has finally been put to rest, and liberals are sorely disappointed. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell came up with a limited compromise that fell well short of the progressives’ goal of doing away with the minority’s traditional ability to block legislation. Senate Democrats largely voted for the modest rule change package last week.

Far-left groups had urged Mr. Reid to ram through a bold, filibuster-busting rule change with just the vote of the Democratic majority. This so-called “nuclear option” would have violated the rule requiring 67 votes to alter the body’s standing procedures. Given the bad blood such a move would have created, Mr. Reid instead agreed to a deal reducing the amount of time for debate and giving the minority an opportunity to vote on two amendments when the speedier procedures are put in place. The deflated statements from left-leaning groups about the deal suggest Mr. McConnell got the better end of the bargain. The Sierra Club said Mr. Reid “missed a real opportunity.” The Communications Workers of America used the same “missed opportunity” talking point. Common Cause called it “capitulation.”

Though certainly not ideal, the changes preserve the upper chamber’s intended role as a deliberative body. As the Senate’s official historian notes, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison saw the Senate as “the great ‘anchor’ of the government” that would cool the passions of the House of Representatives. The historian notes George Washington once likened the Senate to a saucer “used to cool hot tea.”

Over time, the Senate developed filibuster rules requiring 60 senators to support a measure before it could proceed to a vote. On controversial matters, this creates a hurdle for a majority that wants to hustle legislation through the process without giving anyone a chance to review the language. Though it’s not always effective, the 60-vote requirement encourages members to come to a bipartisan agreement to achieve the needed consensus. It’s not necessarily a bad thing when legislation lacking such consensus fails.

Both parties are guilty of trying to short-circuit this system. When George W. Bush was president, some GOP senators wanted to change rules to allow the president to push Republican judges quickly onto the bench over the objections of the Democratic minority. Now they are feeling the fallout of their shortsightedness as the liberals advocate the same policy with their man sitting behind the Oval Office desk.

This is the trap into which politicians fall when they make their choices based on expediency instead of proper constitutional principles. It would never be wise to turn the Senate into a smaller version of the House of Representatives by eliminating or curtailing the filibuster. Today’s upset liberals should look forward to the day four years from now when fortunes are reversed and Republicans hold the White House. They’ll be glad the filibuster is still there.

The Washington Times

© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

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