No More Excuses — Filibuster Must Go

Fletcher Armstrong
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Posted: Feb 08, 2017 10:44 AM
No More Excuses — Filibuster Must Go

In 2010, Republicans promised to end Obamacare and cut spending. Voters gave them the House, but got mostly excuses in return. They waited.

In 2014, Republicans again promised to end Obamacare and cut spending. Voters gave them the Senate, and again, got mostly excuses in return. They got angry.

So angry and so desperate, they nominated Donald Trump for president, a high-risk gamble either way. He might lose big, and take the Senate with him, or maybe even win, which some Republicans feared even more.

But win he did, and with the White House now in Republican hands, there can be no more excuses. No more broken promises. They have two years to get it done.

If they don’t, the voters will abandon them again, just like they did in 2006 and 2008, when many Bush voters stayed home because of broken promises, notably, failure to control spending. They won’t hear excuses.

But what about the Senate filibuster?

With its staggered 6-year terms, the Senate was meant to be an insulator against abrupt swings of public opinion (as opposed to the House, which voters can replace entirely at once). Though not required by the Constitution, the filibuster added even more insulating power, by requiring a 60-vote majority to do much of anything.

Republicans need eight Democratic votes to pass an Obamacare replacement, reform the tax code, fix Dodd-Frank, and enact other structural reforms, not to mention confirm SCOTUS nominees.

Yes, Republicans can use budget reconciliation to defund oppressive government programs and agencies, but they have reneged on that promise before. Besides, budget reconciliation can’t actually change or repeal any law.

On the other hand, it only takes 50 votes, with the VP serving as tiebreaker, to abolish the filibuster, in whole or in part. So why do Senate Republicans resist?

Fear.

The filibuster is a check on majority power, and because Democrats have controlled the Senate 32 of the past 50 years, Republicans fear they have more to lose.

But is losing their majority inevitable? Yes, if the Republicans fail to keep their word. That is the best and fastest way back to minority status.

Democrats were severely punished by voters for enacting their extreme agenda. Republicans fear the same fate. But there is an important difference. Republican solutions work and will be supported by a center-right public. Democrat solutions do not work, as we saw with Obamacare. It’s just that simple.

All across this country, state legislatures swung Republican in 2010. They cut taxes. They cut spending. Horror of horrors, they even passed a long list of abortion restrictions. Democrats and their media called Republicans every name in the book. They organized recall elections and breathlessly predicted voter backlash. Voters, they said, didn’t want Republicans to keep their word; they wanted Republicans to enact a “bipartisan” (by that, they meant “leftist”) agenda. But Republicans didn’t fear; they kept their word, and voters rewarded them with even bigger majorities. Wisconsin is just one example.

As it turned out, Caesar was right. Fortune does favor the bold. And voters favor Republicans who keep their promises.

Still, there are many uncontrollable factors (e.g., the inevitable economic ups and downs), so a return to minority status is possible. What then?

There are other checks on Democratic power. First, there is the House, for which the Republicans have a structural advantage (redistricting) through 2012, and perhaps beyond. Second, there is the presidency, which can still be won by a bold campaigner, as we just saw. Third, there are yet future elections, which will afford the opportunity to repair any damage done.

Furthermore, SCOTUS can be a backstop against the loss of constitutional freedoms, but only if Republicans hold power long enough to create a 6-3 or 7-2 majority of justices who respect constitutional limits, both on federal power and on judicial power.

Some fear that abandoning the filibuster could worsen partisan polarization. But how can it be any worse than it is?

The modern Democratic Party is the invention of Saul Alinsky, who taught them how to use polarization, intolerance, ad hominems, lying, etc., to advance policy goals. Honest debate is for chumps. The ends (acquiring, concentrating, and wielding government power — all for a good cause, of course) justify the means. Obamacare architect Jonathan Gruber illustrated this principle when he justified lying to the public, because he’d “rather have this law than not.” White House National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes openly bragged about manipulating the press to lie about the Iran nuclear deal. Apparently, it was better to have the deal than not.

Phil Gramm believes we can achieve bipartisan consensus to correct the excesses of the Obama years. In the WSJ, he wrote, “With determination and imagination, the Republican Senate can restore the same kind of bipartisanship that cut taxes in 1981, reformed the tax code in 1986, reformed welfare in 1997, and balanced the budget in 1998.”

But that was long ago; today’s reality is different. The opposition party is much less interested in achieving bipartisan consensus or solving problems. They are more interested in creating gridlock, which they will blame on Republicans. In this environment, a 60-vote threshold only ensures that nothing gets done.

And that just leaves us with more failures. More broken promises. And millions of frustrated voters who won’t bother to show up next time.

Make no mistake. Democrats will abolish the filibuster when it suits them. They did it for Cabinet and non-SCOTUS judicial picks in 2013. At the time, it would have done no good to eliminate the filibuster for legislation, because anything they might pass in the Senate would only die in the Republican-controlled House. But when Democrats again control the House, Senate, and presidency, the filibuster will go.

Better for Republicans to end it now, while there is still time to keep today’s promises. That is what voters want.

For Republicans, the only thing to fear is fear itself.