The Senate financial regulatory reform bill will have a tougher time passing in the Senate than the House version of the bill did in the lower chamber.
Unlike the beginning of the health care debate, Senate Republicans now have forty-one GOP Senators and can mount a filibuster to block any motion from the majority to pass cloture and halt debate on the floor. Senate Democrats knew the GOP would mount a filibuster after the election of Senator Scott Brown, Massachusetts Republican, who won a special Senate election back in January turning the once long time Democratic held seat, held by the late Ted Kennedy, to a Republican officeholder.
Senate Democrats decided to employ the reconciliation process to help pass the final health care bill and thereby requiring only a simple majority vote in the Senate and bypassing any chance of a GOP filibuster.
The Senate Rules Committee met on Thursday morning to examine the filibuster rules and decide whether or not the rules should be reformed. Senator Chuck Schumer, New York Democrat and Chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, opened the hearing declaring, “filibusters and cloture motions have escalated in recent years to unprecedented levels.”
Conveniently, Senator Schumer preemptively dismissed any claims that because he or members of his party made arguments for the filibuster when he was serving in the minority should not mean the filibuster rules shouldn’t be changed today, when his party is no longer benefitting from a successful filibuster. He said:
“I was a member of this committee in 2003, as were many of my colleagues here, both Republican and Democrat. Not surprisingly, the words we spoke then might not reflect how we feel today, when our Majority and Minority roles are reversed. I am sure my colleagues could quote me opposing filibuster reform, just as I could quote them in favor of such reform. But that is not the point of these hearings.”
An example of Mr. Schumer’s blatant hypocrisy goes back to 2005, when the Democrats in the Senate were in the minority and were mounting a filibuster. Back then Mr. Schumer said, “The basic makeup of our Senate is at stake. The checks and balances that Americans prize are at stake. The idea of bipartisanship, where you have to come together and can’t rust ram everything through because you have a narrow majority, is at stake. The very things we treasure and love about this grand republic are at stake.”
After the New York Senator attempted to clear himself of any hypocrisy from his previous remarks on the filibuster, Senator Robert Byrd, West Virginia Democrat and Senate President Pro Tempore, took a different path from Chairman Schumer.
While remaining open to changing the rules, the West Virginia Democrat was also cautionary saying in a submitted statement:
“I have long revered the rules and precedents of this body, but I have also championed reforms when I thought them necessary,” Mr. Byrd said. “We should remain open to changes in the Senate rules, but not to the detriment of the institution’s character or purpose.”
Towards the end of his statement, Senator Byrd also remained hesitant in changing the rules of the filibuster.
“If something seems wrong with the Senate from time to time, we, the members, might try looking in the mirror. Additional efforts toward civility and patience, and accommodation on both sides, may do us more lasting good than any actual change in the rules. There is no challenge we must confront that dwarfs the challenges our predecessors faced. If they found a way forward without damaging the Senate’s ultimate purpose, I am confident that we can too.
“If the Senate rules are being abused, it does not necessarily follow that the solution is to change the rules. Senators are obliged to exercise their best judgment when invoking their right to extended debate. They also should be obliged to actually filibuster, that is go to the Floor and talk, instead of finding less strenuous ways to accomplish the same end. If the rules are abused, and Senators exhaust the patience of their colleagues, such actions can invite draconian measures. But those measures themselves can, in the long run, be as detrimental to the role of the institution and to the rights of the American people as the abuse of the rules.
Extended deliberation and debate – when employed judiciously – protect every Senator, and the interests of their constituency, and are essential to the protection of the liberties of a free people.”
It should be noted that during the health care debate, Senator Byrd previously came out against the reconciliation of the health care bill and later favored its use.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, contrasted Mr. Schumer’s remarks. The Kentucky Republican highlighted the consistent nature of his own position on the filibuster rules:
“It probably comes as no great surprise that I am not in favor of such a proposal. I never have been, including when I served in the Majority.”
“I submit that the effort to change the rules is not about democracy. It is not about doing what a majority of the American people want. It is about power.”
“If it were truly about doing what a majority of Americans wanted, the Democratic Majority in the Senate would not have muscled through a health spending bill that a majority of Americans opposed—and opposed by wide margins. When that bill finally passed the Senate, 39% of Americans favored it, while 59% opposed it, according to CNN. Other surveys had similar results.”
“No, what this is about is power. It is about a political party—or a faction of a political party—that is frustrated that it cannot do whatever it wants, whenever it wants, precisely the way it wants to do it. That’s what this is about.”
In the meantime, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada, filed for cloture on Thursday scheduling the first test vote on the financial regulation reform bill on Monday. If the test vote shows the GOP can keep all forty - one GOP senators committed to mounting a filibuster, expect to see more Democrats flip-flop on their previous position on the filibuster rules. How convenient.