Voters might justifiably assume that having now gained control of Congress and the White House, Republicans have complete power to enact all campaign promises in the last election. But without changes to the filibuster, Senate minority Democrats can still block Republican reforms.
The grass-roots Republican voter base, however, already demonstrated in this year’s presidential primaries great frustration with Republican ineffectiveness. That was the whole point of voters choosing highly controversial, rookie political novice Donald Trump as their nominee, over a dozen proven political veterans with ties to the Republican establishment. This now presents a highly volatile, hugely threatening problem for Republicans.
This Great Frustration began brewing in 2010. After two years of complete Obama Democratic control of Washington, voters gave Republicans that year a New Deal-size, landslide victory with a gain of more than 60 seats in the House. That retired Nancy Pelosi as speaker, with a controlling Republican majority that continues to this day.
It also provided an immediate check and balance on President Obama, blocking any new Democratic legislation. It resulted as well in the sequester of 2011, which slowed federal spending over several years back down closer to the long-term consensus trendline of 20 percent of gross domestic product. That consensus trendline had prevailed for more than 60 years, from the end of World War II until 2009.
But the Republican House majority proved ineffective in defunding any already-enacted Obama Democratic initiatives, given Mr. Obama’s proclivity to shut down the government to defend what was already won, and collaboration of the dominant Democratic-controlled media to blame Republicans for it. Without cooperation from the still-Democratic Senate, Republicans could not pass legislation undoing Obama anti-growth travesties, like Obamacare, Dodd-Frank or Mr. Obama’s regulatory and administrative jihad against American energy production.
So in 2014, voters gave Republicans the Senate. But Republicans complained they still could not reverse Obama travesties without the White House. So now voters have made Donald Trump president. Indeed, absent woeful Republican performance in office, Mr. Trump is assured Republican control of Congress for his entire term, with 25 Democratic senators and only eight Republicans up for re-election in 2018.
Republicans need to understand that their political base will not tolerate any continued ineffectiveness given these sweeping political victories. In particular, Republicans cannot now allow Democrats to obstruct essential pro-growth reforms, such as tax reform, repealing and replacing Obamacare, or reversing Obama anti-energy restrictions, with Democratic filibusters in the Senate. Continued ineffectiveness now threatens the breakup of the Republican Party base with a new third party.
The Republican point man in this fight is Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. At the start of the new session, he has the power to issue new Senate rules.
The filibuster is too ingrained in American traditions to abolish it. But Mr. McConnell’s new rules could neuter Democratic powers to stymie pro-growth Republican reforms and appointments altogether.
Recent congressional practice has been to canvass the minority party’s filibuster intentions. If the minority has just 40 Senate votes to maintain a filibuster, then the majority just drops any challenged measure and moves on.
The new Senate filibuster rule must end this practice. It must require any filibuster of any measure to involve objectors standing up and talking, like in the film “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” where actor Jimmy Stewart as Mr. Smith talked till he fainted on the Senate floor.
That would communicate to the entire country what Democrats are doing to stop popular pro-growth Republican reforms from even getting a vote. With a majority of Senate Democrats up for re-election next year, Democratic obstructionists will not be able to maintain such filibusters.
The new rule must provide that once the minority filibuster is exhausted and fails, the measure at issue goes directly to a final vote.
In 2015, then-Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid unilaterally terminated filibusters against judicial appointments, except for the Supreme Court. But that termination should now be extended to Supreme Court appointments as well.
Turnabout is fair play. Democratic abuse of Supreme Court filibusters began 30 years ago, stopping appointment of extremely well-qualified Judge Robert Bork. With perhaps half of Supreme Court seats up for reappointment during President Trump’s term, minority Democrats should be denied any such further filibuster abuse.
Indeed, Mr. Reid unilaterally changed the filibuster rule during the Senate session, rather than at the start. So pressure on Mr. McConnell to short-circuit Democratic filibuster abuse can and should continue throughout the entire current Senate session as well.
• Lewis K. Uhler is founder and chairman of the National Tax Limitation Committee and National Tax Limitation Foundation (NTLF). Peter J. Ferrara is principal and general counsel for the Raddington Group, and a senior fellow at the Heartland Institute and the NTLF.