Senate Democrats, in a desperate attempt to change the subject from their willful destruction of health insurance coverage for millions of Americans, decided to destroy the basic principles of the Senate that have served the country well for over 200 years. We can look forward to a new era of even more divisive, bare-knuckled partisan politics in Washington. Less of American life will be insulated from politics. There is no going back.
Senate Democrats broke Senate rules in order to change the rules, eliminating the filibuster and paving the way for the Senate to become a majoritarian body, like the House, rather than a consensus-driven body consistent with the design of the founders. Moreover, they did so in order to stack the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals with liberal Democrats who are expected to rubber-stamp nearly everything President Obama does — lawful or otherwise.
In 2005, when Republican Majority Leader Bill Frist first proposed this nuclear option, Harry Reid led the fight to stop him. He went to extraordinary lengths to defend his party’s use of the filibuster.
In 2008, Reid said “In all my years in government, that was the most important thing I ever worked on.” Reid succeeded and Frist failed because at least seven Republicans refused to go along with their leader’s call to break the rules. Asked if the Senate would ever consider such a move again, Reid said: “As long as I’m the leader, the answer is no.”
But in July of this year, Reid was set go nuclear with his own rule-breaking rule-change on executive branch nominees. Only executive branch, he insisted, saying: “We’re not talking about changing the filibuster rules that relates to nominations for judges.”
Republicans backed down and let the executive branch nominees sail through. But Reid was only emboldened.
Now Reid has done what Frist did not. He destroyed the Senate’s tradition of filibuster and unlike the Frist attempt in 2005, Reid’s rule-breaking power grab had enough party discipline to get passed the finish line. All but three Democrats (Carl Levin of Michigan, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, and Mark Pryor of Arkansas) went along with the scheme.
With a quick four month slippage from executive branch only to judges, it won’t likely long before the filibuster is also gutted for legislation and the Senate, like the House, becomes a simple majoritarian body.
As Reid himself noted on the Senate floor during the Frist attempt in 2005, this is a major change in American governance:
“For 200 years, we’ve had the right to extended debate. It’s not some ‘procedural gimmick.’ It’s within the vision of the Founding Fathers of our country. They established a government so that no one person — and no single party — could have total control.”
He didn’t know then that total control — which until now required 60 Senate votes — would soon be within his own grasp and would result in the health care debacle the country now faces. Now such total control will be far more routine, requiring only 50 Senate votes. It’s entirely possible Republicans will enjoy it after the next presidential election.
The upside is that fundamental tax reform, sweeping regulatory reform, and other pro-growth ideas that have long been sidelined would become possible. But any major legislative accomplishment would also become far more likely to be washed away in the next swing of the political pendulum. Public policy will be less stable and long-term business planning will be confounded.
American life just became far more political, far more subject to shifting political whims and less subject to bipartisan consensus building.
This is what Harry Reid and the Democrats have wrought.
The only response now is to make the Democrats regret gutting the rights of the minority party by making them that party. The stakes are higher than ever. Just win.
© Copyright 2013 Phil Kerpen, distributed by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.
Mr. Kerpen is the president of American Commitment and the author of “Democracy Denied.” Kerpen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.