One look at the ever-growing chorus of radical groups clamoring for Senate filibuster reform should be enough for anyone to understand what’s really motivating the efforts. The AFL-CIO, Clean Water Action, CREW, Daily Kos, Feminist Majority, Greenpeace, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, NAACP, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Action Fund, National Organization for Women, Progressive Congress, SEIU and United Steelworkers are just a few of the radical special-interest groups demanding that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid break Senate rules to change the filibuster with the so-called “nuclear option.”
In short, it’s payback time. Mr. Reid is happy to comply.
Democrats should be hesitant to go along with the special interests’ cry in this instance. The damage done by such a drastic move more than likely will outweigh all the goodies they’ll be able to give their supporters. They are tinkering with the very essence of the Founders’ idea of checks and balances. In Federalist No. 9, Alexander Hamilton wrote, “The regular distribution of power into distinct departments; the introduction of legislative balances and checks are means, and powerful means, by which the excellences of republican government may be retained and its imperfections lessened or avoided.”
Mr. Reid’s efforts run squarely against that. If the rules need to be changed, then why not convince your fellow senators to change the rule with the usual 67 votes? Well, that’s just too hard, apparently. So Mr. Reid — ever the snake-oil salesman — is peddling the idea that he can change the rules with just 51 votes, as long as it is at the beginning of the Senate. In other words, he wants to break the rules to change the rules.
How is such a move supposed to foster the bipartisanship for which the American people have been asking? In 2005, when Mr. Reid was in the minority, he called this move “un-American,” and said, “The filibuster is a critical tool in keeping the majority in check.” Now he is in the majority and does not like to be kept in check.
The filibuster rule requires 60 votes to end debate on a piece of legislation and move to a vote. The purpose of the rule is to protect the rights of the minority and make senators compromise to find solutions, instead of ramming through the extreme views of any one group.
This is actually the only way the minority has been able to get any input on legislation under Mr. Reid’s tyrannical leadership. There are two other vehicles the minority can use to have input on legislation, but Mr. Reid undercuts them both on a regular basis.
One is by offering amendments in committee, which Mr. Reid has bypassed by using a rule that allows him to write legislation behind closed doors and bring it straight to the Senate floor without going through committee. The other is by offering amendments on the floor and, as you can probably guess, Mr. Reid usually “fills the tree,” which means that he offers enough amendments to exhaust the opportunity for anyone else to present amendments and then calls for a vote.
With no input to legislation, is it any surprise that the minority is forced to use the filibuster to try to effect change?
Some of the senators supporting the effort against the filibuster continue to say they just want to make senators who want to filibuster actually have to stand there on the Senate floor and do so. Fine. Convince your fellow senators and get the 67 votes required to make the rule change. Don’t break the rules just because you are not able to get your way. It is supposed to be difficult.
Yet the pressure from radical special-interest groups weighs heavily on the Democrats, especially after the election. Many senators are fully on board with the move, even to the point of directing their campaigns to spend money lobbying to put pressure on their colleagues to go along with breaking the rules to change the rules.
We will see if the pressure is too much for any of them to withstand. One can only hope that there would be some principled Democrat who would stand up and urge colleagues to do the right thing and work with the other side, instead of stabbing them in the back. Some have invoked the efforts of Sen. Robert Byrd, the late West Virginia Democrat who said, “We must never, ever, tear down the only wall — the necessary fence — this nation has against the excesses of the executive branch and the resultant haste and tyranny of the majority.”
Is there anyone willing to stand up in today’s Democratic Party? We will have to wait and see.
Mario Diaz is lawyer for Concerned Women for America.