When the Majority Doesn’t Count
Republicans have managed to give the public Republican rule even though the public elected Democratic rule.
Even neater, for them, is that the media (in particular the Sunday shows) love to talk about how Congress is broken and both parties do it. Of course, that’s not really what’s been going down and the media should know better. It’s not as if Republicans didn’t announce that their tactic would be to obstruct every single thing President Obama wanted to accomplish. They did.
You might recall that in 2007, former Senate Minority Whip Trent Lott explained how Republicans were getting around Democratic majorities, “The strategy of being obstructionist can work or fail… So far it’s working for us.”
It works in part because the media ignores what they are doing. Just yesterday I wrote about how PolitiFact is holding Obama accountable for a failed promise on the UN Disability Treaty that was blocked by Republicans. So, yes, obstruction pays well. After blocking bills, Republicans blame Obama and the Democrats for not getting things passed.
This leads to many frustrating conversations with conservatives who rely on the stark simplicity of a lie over the complex nuance of the truth. In an effort to justify/deny the Republican abuse of filibusters, you’ll often hear from conservatives, “It’s all procedural and both sides do it.” If that doesn’t work, they come out with, “Democrats have the majority so if they didn’t get what they wanted done, it’s their fault.” Both excuses are inaccurate.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev) wants to change the filibuster rule in the Senate because Republicans have been abusing it. He pointed out in Politico this September, “Since Democrats took control of the Senate in 2006, Republicans have mounted 380 filibusters. This far exceeds anything we’ve seen before in the Senate. By comparison, in Lyndon B. Johnson’s six years as Senate majority leader, he faced just one filibuster.”
Reid merely wants to change what it would take to debate a bill, not the vote to actually pass it. It doesn’t seem like he’s asking too much.
But Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell claims that the 60 supermajority vote rule is ordinary procedure. McConnell huffed at Reid’s filibuster reform, “What these Democrats have in mind is a fundamental change to the way the Senate operates.”
McConnell is incorrect. The founding fathers did not design the filibuster. Furthermore, according to James Madison in the Federalist Papers No. 58, “[Requiring a supermajority] would mean the fundamental principle of free government would be reversed. It would be no longer the majority that would rule; the power would be transferred to the minority.”
It gets worse for McConnell and his argument. In Federalist Papers No. 22, Alexander Hamilton seemed to anticipate the modern day Republican party, writing of the concept of a supermajority, “(I)ts real operation is to embarrass the administration, to destroy the energy of government and to substitute the pleasure, caprice or artifices of an insignificant, turbulent or corrupt junta, to the regular deliberations and decisions of a respectable majority.”
McConnell also seems to think that the Senate is designed to protect the minority voice. And yet, Citizens for Ethics explains, “The founding fathers, who needed a supermajority to approve any action under the Articles of Confederation, saw firsthand how such a requirement renders a government powerless to act. In response, they specifically limited supermajority requirements in the Constitution to treaties, impeachment, veto overrides, constitutional amendments, and expulsion of members. In their view, protecting the minority meant protecting the right to be heard, to offer amendments, and to cast votes that count.”
The notion of a supermajority to get anything done would leave the government powerless to act? Sounds like exactly the goal the Republicans had in mind when Trent Lott first gleefully told us how well the obstruction was going for them.
Here are but a few examples of bills that would likely have passed the Senate without the filibuster, according to Dylan Matthews at the Washington Post (more at link, including appointments):
The DREAM Act
The DISCLOSE Act
Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA)
The Public option
Paycheck Fairness Act
Permanent middle-class Bush tax cut extension
Rescinding of the upper-income Bush tax cuts
Public Safety Employer-Employee Cooperation Act
Emergency Senior Citizens Relief Act
Creating American Jobs and Ending Offshoring Act
American Jobs Act
The Buffett rule
Teachers and First Responders Back to Work Act of 2011
Repeal Big Oil Tax Subsidies Act
While getting through the Senate doesn’t mean they would have passed as law, these examples show you how you the public’s wishes are being abused by Republicans in the Senate. The public elected Democrats ostensibly because the public supports Democratic ideas, such as the above list. But the public is not getting a chance at those policies because Republicans have distorted the function of the filibuster.
Here are a few graphs to demonstrate that Republicans have abused the filibuster beyond any previous usage, both parties don’t do it equally, and it has gotten so out of hand since Republicans began really abusing it in 2007 that the people are being royally robbed of democracy.
(Note: The frequency of filibusters and threats to use them are measured by the number of times the upper chamber votes on cloture. Cloture is a Senate procedure to end debate so other business can be brought to the floor.) Click to enlarge:
The Republican abuse of the filibuster has effectively stymied the Senate from doing its job and functioning as an actual body of government, and this is why Harry Reid is aiming at reforming the filibuster rules in January at the start of the new session.
Additional sources: Senate Cloture Votes
Ms. Jones is the co-founder/ editor-in-chief of PoliticusUSA and a member of the White House press pool.
Sarah hosts Politicus News and co-hosts Politicus Radio. Her analysis has been featured on several national radio, television news programs and talk shows, and print outlets including Stateside with David Shuster, as well as The Washington Post, The Atlantic Wire, CNN, MSNBC, The Week, The Hollywood Reporter, and more.
Sarah is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists.