On Thursday, Harry Reid’s Democratic Senate gave us the latest reminder that the Left leans toward state control of everything, even the democratic process, by making the grave mistake of going “nuclear.” They destroyed over 200 years of Senate precedent by voting along party lines (52-48, with three Democrats voting in opposition with the Republicans) to strike down the rule requiring 60 votes to cut off a filibuster. As WaPo explains:
What made the day so historic for senators, former senators and the small collection of parliamentary experts in Washington was the simple majority vote used to execute the changes — a tactic so extreme it is known as the “nuclear option.” Previous majorities had threatened to upend filibuster rules in this manner, but relying on a simple majority vote had been used only for relatively minor procedural changes to how amendments were handled, never to eliminate the supermajority requirement altogether. Before Thursday, the standard precedent was that major rule changes needed a two-thirds majority. The change was so significant that Reid and his leadership team held a victory party with liberal activists afterward in a room just off the Senate floor.
The ability of a minority to thwart the agenda and will of the party in power is a feature, not a bug, of the constitutional order, so that the majority cannot run roughshod over the minority, which is, you know, tyranny. But “majority rules” is, unsurprisingly, popular with the majority, and so once again, the imperial president gets his way. But this extends beyond Obama, this changes the Senate’s role for all time. The Founders envisioned the Senate as a check on the House, as George Washington put it, “We pour legislation into the Senatorial saucer to cool it” from the passions of the House. As Dana Milbank wrote today, this now essentially turns the Senate into another version of the House. If it were possible to make things even worse in Washington, Harry Reid just did it:
If Congress wasn’t broken before, it certainly is now. What Reid (Nev.) and his fellow Democrats effectively did was take the chamber of Congress that still functioned at a modest level and turn it into a clone of the other chamber, which functions not at all. They turned the Senate into the House…Until Thursday, Senate rules required the majority party to win votes from the minority.
This is something Democrats used to recognize. The hypocrisy now is astounding. Predictable, but astounding. Seriously, watch this video compilation. Your head will explode.
Here’s what then-Senator Joe Biden said in 2005 when a Republican Senate majority threatened to use a similar “nuclear option” to allow a simple majority to carry the day:
“The nuclear option abandons America’s sense of fair play . . . tilting the playing field on the side of those who control and own the field. I say to my friends on the Republican side: You may own the field right now, but you won’t own it forever. I pray God when the Democrats take back control, we don’t make the kind of naked power grab you are doing.”
But, to be fair, people pointing out the absolute hypocrisy of the Democrat’s position are missing something crucial: it’s different when you need to stop Republicans. Just like one of the interesting things about money is that it only works to corrupt politics when Republicans spend it. And one of the truths about the “War on Terror” is that sometimes war and drone strikes are evil and other times the president is a Democrat. That is the ridiculous narrative the left-leaning media has gotten the American people to believe.
Democrats claim they were forced to be hypocritical and break all the rules because of an “unprecedented” amount of obstruction by Republicans, who were using filibusters to hold up nominations to the federal appeals court. This is nonsense. Under President George W. Bush, 35 out of 52 nominations were approved. That’s 67 percent. Under President Obama, 30 out of 42 nominations, thus far, have been approved. That’s 71 percent. It’s nonsensical to say the discrepancy—which is in the Democratic president’s favor—justifies a change that Democrats vehemently opposed in 2005. The answer the Republicans came up with during the Bush years was to leave the seats empty, rather than turn our representative republic into a parliamentary system. Democrats will now pack the courts with far left ideologues who will make sure that none of the coming Obamacare suits do anything to harm the law. They also need to protect the President, who has done much while he is in office that is of questionable legality/constitutionality. That’s what this is about. The Left has long used the strategy that if they can’t get what they want at the ballot box, they will get it through the courts.
So, it was a sad day for America and what was once a great deliberative body. By the way, as a libertarian and a constitutionalist, I would disapprove of this no matter which party did it, because I’m skeptical of power regardless of who’s in charge. As Walter Russell Mead notes, there is plenty of blame to go around:
Yesterday’s vote did not violate the Constitution. It was not revolutionary. There are good arguments to be made for it—as the Republicans should know, having made most of these arguments themselves just a few years ago. But the vote does chip away at the foundations of the American system. Those foundations are strong but not infinitely so; enough termites given enough opportunity can destroy the stateliest of mansions. Yet blame for yesterday’s bad vote doesn’t just rest with the opportunistic Democrats who pushed it through. It rests on all those, Republican and Democrat, who over the years have slighted their common duty to strengthen the foundations of American democracy. It rests on the presidents of both parties who have gradually and progressively gamed the judicial appointment system to seek maximum ideological advantage from each court appointment. It rests on the senators in both parties who have abused the confirmation process to counter-game presidential court gaming. It rests with single issue advocacy groups and ideological ginger groups on both sides of the political spectrum who encourage people to prioritize particular issues and positions over the health and sustainability of the political system overall. We are not in an era of unprecedented polarization. We are not even in an era of unprecedented chicanery and corruption. But we are in a time when too few of our national leaders think carefully enough about the need to preserve and protect the legitimacy and dignity of our political system. Yesterday’s vote was another step forward on a road that leads downhill. That is unfortunate; it is easier to go downhill than up, and we are likely now to see the political system as a whole lose a little bit more of the legitimacy and public respect that, in the end, are necessary if our constitutional republic is to continue to endure.
After the vote, Reid told reporters that his views on the issue had evolved — from eight years ago, when Republicans held the majority and he led the fight to protect the filibuster. He acknowledged that he wouldn’t mind seeing the supermajority requirement abolished for everything, but that there were not enough votes in his caucus to support such a move. And that’s why this is such a disaster. This won’t just be limited to judicial appointments in the future, it will extend to SCOTUS nominees and, eventually, all legislation. This decision lays the groundwork to eventually eradicate the filibuster entirely. It has placed the Congress on a worrisome path. We have essentially become a parliamentary system, without the framework that makes one functional (namely, the ability to quickly dismantle the majority before they do irreparable harm). As John Yoo notes:
The biggest loser…will not be Democrats or Republicans, but the American constitutional system. Like several other parts of the Obama administration’s political program, the filibuster’s end sacrifices unique constitutional and political features of the American government for short-term political gain. Worried about minority rights, the Framers designed a Constitution that imposed a difficult, hazardous path before any government action could be taken. Legislation had to be able to run the gauntlet of the popular House, the state-chosen Senate, and the nationally elected president, before braving federalism’s limited enumeration on federal powers. “Hence a double security arises to the rights of the people,” James Madison explained in Federalist 51. “The different governments will control each other, at the same time that each will be controlled by itself.” Under the Framers’ design, domestic action could flow only from high levels of political consensus built upon long and careful deliberation. It forced the political parties to compromise. Though ever frustrating to those who demand immediate reform or unchecked majority rule, the filibuster rule bolstered these unique features of the American Constitution. They imparted a stability to government and a resistance to sudden impulses that spared the United States the trials and tribulations of Europe, where parliamentary government has often led to wild swings of policy. As political sociologist Louis Hartz observed long ago, there is a reason why the United States never suffered the evils of socialism or Communism.
“If you’ve got a majority of folks who believe in something, then it should be able to pass,” Obama said after the vote in a pathetic attempt to justify the move. Yeah, who needs Federalist 10? This is a profoundly disturbing message. “The system doesn’t work the way I want it to, so the system is wrong!” cried the tyrant. “We needed to strip the minority of its rights to protect the people,” said every authoritarian ever. Obama should have just come out and said, “What part of ‘fundamental transformation’ didn’t you dopes understand?” and then walked away.
So, Thursday was a sad day for this country and what used to be the best and least tyrannical form of government in the world. This move squashes minority rights and increases the power of the executive. If a majority can change the rules on a whim, then there are no rules. Why can the Democrats get away with this? Because they recognize that half the country is stupid as hell and all they need to do is wave “free” contraception in their faces to distract them from recognizing that they are, in fact, GETTING SCREWED.
But, if I must find a silver lining, now we’ll only need 51 votes to repeal Obamacare and I look forward to President Ted Cruz rolling back the entitlement state and stacking the courts in 2017, starting with Supreme Court Justice Mark Levin. Also, from Obama’s speech (which was a generalized broadside against divided government and the rule of law) about the majority getting what it wants, I’m inferring that Obama is going to approve the Keystone pipeline, a 20-week abortion ban, a complete overhaul of Obamacare and then resign and appoint Romney as his successor. Exciting times.