In anticipation of another two years of Congressional gridlock, Democrats are once again fervently trying to block Republicans from using the Senate filibuster to stop their horrific agenda.
The Senate filibuster is a longstanding parliamentary tactic, not mandated by the Constitution but used since 1837, to stop overzealous Senate majorities from doing things like nationalizing our healthcare system. Both Democrats and Republicans have relied on it when they were the minority party. Republican Senators used it to block President Wilson from arming merchant ships during World War I. Left-wing populist Huey Long used it repeatedly during the Great Depression to push his redistributionist legislation. Former Democratic Senator Strom Thurmond filibustered the 1957 Civil Rights Act for 24 straight hours, and a group of Democratic senators including Robert Byrd filibustered the 1964 Civil Rights Act for 57 days.
More recently Democrats used the filibuster threat in 2005 to block several of President George W. Bush’s Appeals Court nominees. So Democrats aren’t exactly strangers to relying on the filibuster to get their way.
But now, having dodged Republican attempts to take back the Senate in 2012, yet still lacking a filibuster-proof 60-seat majority, Democrats are impatient to get back to the important task of turning the U.S. into a European-style welfare state. And newly empowered Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will stop at nothing to achieve his first goal of letting the decade-long Bush tax cuts expire for high-income earners.
However, any Democratic Senators capable of thinking past the country’s end-of-the-year “fiscal cliff” showdown might want to consider how valuable that filibuster may be to them come January 2015.
Consider: Despite the wave of anti-Democratic sentiment that swept the country in the 2010 midterms, Republicans couldn’t manage to take the Senate, because the electoral map wasn’t as favorable to them as it was for the House. In 2010, roughly equal numbers of Senators from both parties—13 Democrats and 12 Republicans—were up for reelection.
The Senate map was better for Republicans in 2012—15 Democrats vs. 7 Republicans—but Democratic Senators on the ballot were whisked through on the coattails of the reelected president (and comments about rape from two idiot Senators who refused to abandon their candidacies).
In 2014, the split is a whopping 20 Democrats vs. 13 Republicans. And those 20 Democrats aren’t just solid lefties in deep-blue states or center-left candidates in light-blue states. At least 9 of the 20 are potentially vulnerable Democrats in red states—Mark Begich in Alaska, Max Baucus in Montana, Mark Pryor in Arkansas, and Jay Rockefeller in West Virginia—and swing states—Mark Udall in Colorado, Al Franken in Minnesota, Kay Hagan in North Carolina, Jeanne Shaheen in New Hampshire, and Mark Warner in Virginia.
In contrast, 12 of the 13 Republicans up for reelection are in deep-red states, the exception being Susan Collins, a moderate in center-left Maine who’s served for 16 years and will likely be reelected until she retires.
Odds are favorable that Republicans will hold onto every one of their 13 contested Senate seats in 2014. If the GOP picks off just 5 of Democrats’ 20 available seats, then they take the Senate. And note: (1) the party not in control of the White House typically gains seats in off-year elections, especially during reelected presidents’ second terms; and (2) this second-term advantage is even stronger for the Senate than for the House. In fact, the party out of power picked up an average of 2.6 Senate seats for first-term presidents and 6.6 Senate seats for second- and third-term presidents over the past 100 years.
But back to the filibuster. Republicans griped about Democrats’ use of it in 2006, since the tool had never before been used to block judicial nominees. While I disagree with Republicans’ specific objections—I think the filibuster should remain an option to prevent the party in control from abusing its power via any of its Constitutional functions—at least Republicans weren’t trying to block the filibuster per se, just because they didn’t like the fact that Democrats were using it against them.
In 2006 Republicans’ argument was: “Democrats shouldn’t use the filibuster for this particular purpose, because it’s never been used for this particular purpose.” In 2012 Democrats’ argument is about one step up from a toddler screaming to his mother: “Johnny won’t let me win!”
But Reid reassures us that, “We’re not going to do away with the filibuster, but we’re going to make the Senate a more meaningful place,” which he could presumably accomplish via scented candles and Barry White tunes.
Do you think Reid would ever consider making the Senate “a more meaningful place” by passing a budget for the first time in four years?
Republicans have reminded Reid that changes of the type he is proposing can be accomplished only via a two-thirds majority, per changes Democrats instituted in 1975. Yet Reid is undeterred and is trying to use the so-called “nuclear option” of changing the rules via a simple majority. Do you suppose Reid is interested in making the Senate “a more meaningful place” by following the Democrat-devised rules for changing Senate protocol?
The only reasons Republicans have been threatening so many filibusters for the past four years—and they’re good ones—are: (1) Reid’s insistence on blocking Republicans from proposing amendments to Democratic legislation, and (2) Democratic legislation.
Far from being an archaic, legalistic, outmoded scheme for abusing legislative power, filibusters are a godsend for stopping liberal Congresses from shoving through monstrosities like Obamacare, even if the floodgates don’t always hold.
If Republicans have any sense, they will install even more robust parliamentary roadblocks after they regain control of the Senate, even if it hurts them in the short-term, so that we can stall statist Democratic legislation from getting through for the next century.
- Gagging The Teabaggers: Senate Majority Leader Pushes Filibuster Reform (addictinginfo.org)
- Dems short on votes for filibuster reform (thehill.com)
- Reid moves to limit GOP filibusters (washingtontimes.com)
- Harry Reid Moves To Limit GOP Filibuster (freedomoutpost.com)
- Harry Reid to Disarm GOP via ‘Filibuster Reform’ (ConservativeActionAlerts.com)