“Experience hath shewn, that even under the best forms of government those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny.” ~Thomas Jefferson
As both houses of Congress battle over the looming Fiscal Cliff, a massive power grab is at hand in the Senate. Majority Leader Harry Reid plans to seize even more control through a filibuster reform package designed to cement Democrats’ domination of the upper house. He plans to push forward a reform plan (one of several current proposals) which will limit the voice of the minority party and thrust a massive amount of power into the hands of the majority party — in this case, the Democrats.
The filibuster is a valuable political tool used to protect the minority party from being exploited by the majority party, despite its rather colorful history. The maneuver allows any sitting Senator to extend debate nearly indefinitely in order to delay or block a bill’s passage. However, senators are able to halt the filibuster with “cloture,” or a two-thirds vote designed to break the stalling tactic. While necessary, filibusters have gotten a bad reputation over the years as a frivolous stalling tactic. J. Stromb Thurmond filibustered the Civil Rights Act of 1957 for over 24 hours, going so far as reading famous documents like George Washington’s farewell speech. There are humorous exceptions to the tactic’s usage of course, but that does not mean we should reduce its potency.
As of now, there is no plan to eliminate the filibuster completely, but each of the several propositions is designed to decrease the tactic’s usefulness. Under a bill sponsored by Senator Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Senators wishing to use a filibuster must actually hold the microphone for the filibuster’s duration instead of simply being able to signal “their intent to obstruct,” which is the current rule. This would make filibusters much more taxing and difficult for members of the minority party to utilize. Regardless of which proposal finally makes it to the floor, its likely that the final bill will be nothing but a power grab by the ruling Democratic majority.
While Majority Leader Harry Reid claims the potential reform is merely a means to streamlining the debate process in the Senate, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell had this to say:
“What these Democrats have in mind is a fundamental change to the way the Senate operates for the purpose of consolidating their own power and further marginalizing the minority voices the Senate was built to protect. In the name of ‘efficiency,’ they would prevent the very possibility of compromise, and threaten to make the disputes of the past few years look like pillow fights.”
The change in filibuster rules would dramatically revolutionize the debate procedures in the Senate, increase divisiveness and tension in the upper house, and solidify the tyrannical rule of the Senate’s current majority party. However, don’t take it from me, take it from a well-known U.S. Senator who said the following in 2006:
“The Senate was established to make sure minorities are protected. The majorities can always protect themselves, but minorities can’t…The need to muster 60 votes in order to terminate Senate debate naturally frustrates the majority and oftentimes the minority…I’ll do my part as majority leader to foster respect for the rules and institution…I believe in the Golden Rule. I am going to treat my [colleagues] the way I expect to be treated.”
That Senator? Harry Reid.
Yes, while Harry Reid was still in the minority party, he “valued” and respected the rules of the Senate. What has changed since then? He and many of his Democratic counterparts have been swayed by the illustrious temptation of power. Since then, Reid has faced a whopping 385 filibusters. There is no mistaking that this is not a mere rule change, it’s a power grab. Have you ever heard of a minority party requesting a change in the filibuster rules such as the ones currently proposed? I thought not. That’s because very few politicians, if any, will intentionally propose a bill that will decrease their own power. The majority party, in this case, is all too willing to squash the little power that their minority counterparts already hold.
Filibuster reform has been proposed in the past and often fails. However, since when has this Democratic majority let enormous opposition stop them from completing their goals? Some interpretations of the Senate rules say that the house can actually change procedural rules with only a 51-vote majority after the new Congress is sworn in. You might remember this “nuclear option,” as it was used to pass Obamacare in 2010. It is well within the Democrats’ power, for they still hold a majority in the Senate after the 2012 election. At this point, nothing will halt Harry Reid and his counterparts in the majority party from doing all they can to solidify their power for years to come. Watch out, America, you’re witnessing the tyranny of the majority in our own Senate. It is through “slow operations,” like seemingly harmless filibuster reform that they will steadily seize complete control.
Amy Lutz | Assistant Editor | Saint Louis University | @AmyLutz4