I honestly don’t understand why Mitch McConnell’s 4/6/17 decision to extend Harry Reid’s 2013 “nuclear option” method of getting federal judgeships through Senate confirmations and apply it to Supreme Court confirmations as well was such a big deal. To me, it’s just another confirmation of what I’ve been saying since starting this web site and making posts to its Blog section — that a major paradigm shift is well underway in this country [see the A Major Paradigm Shift Well Underway page at this site]. Democrats would have tried to filibuster any SCOTUS nominee — it wasn’t about Neil Gorsuch. And, despite all the rhetoric about this filibuster being “payback” for the Republican filibuster of President Obama’s nominee [Merrick Garland] last year, it wasn’t about that, either. They are determined to block President Trump at every point possible, and it is likely that many more filibusters are in the pipeline [you can certainly bet on that for any healthcare bill that is characterized as a repeal of the ACA (rather than improvements/enhancements to it)].
The next step, which practically all Senators in both parties are saying would “destroy the Senate as we know it” [those actual words have been used by some Senators in media interviews], would be to just go ahead and drive the last nail in the coffin of the whole filibuster concept and remove it from Senate rules altogether. That last step would be to extend what Reid [a Democrat] and McConnell [a Republican] have already done to apply to legislation as well — and the way I see it, that would be a good thing.
Original Rationale For The Filibuster No Longer Valid
I’m not a history buff, but from a little research I found that the original rationale for the filibuster was that the minority party should not be totally powerless — i.e., if Senators in that party were so adamantly opposed in principle to something that they would do everything possible to block it, maybe it would be best to provide a mechanism for them to do so. The logic was probably that this mechanism would ensure that minority opinions were at least heard and understood before the Senate voted on an issue, thereby possibly enabling the minority to gain majority support for at least some of the modifications they considered to be the most important.
So why isn’t that rationale still valid? Here’s a brief synopsis …
Senate rules first allowed for filibusters in 1806, though the first filibuster actually occurred more than 30 years later, in 1837. They continued to be rare for more than another century.
Prior to 1917, as long as a senator kept talking on the floor, a bill could not move forward, and ending the filibuster was up to the filibustering senators. In 1917, the Senate adopted the cloture rule, under which two thirds of senators could vote to force an end to debate and bring the question under consideration to an up-or-down vote. The two-thirds requirement was later changed to the current three-fifths [60%].
For the next sixty years, the filibuster continued to be used sparingly. In 1975, though, the Senate made a change that made it significantly easier to filibuster by adopting rules that allow other business to be conducted while a filibuster is, technically underway. Since then, senators have not needed to stand up on the floor and make their case to their colleagues and their constituents in order to halt legislation. Instead, these “virtual filibusters” can be conducted in absentia.
The filibuster has been used 1,300 times since 1917. However, the vast majority of those filibusters have taken place in recent years. Filibuster use began to increase dramatically in the 1970s. Even so, there still had only been a grand total of 413 Senate filibusters by 1990. Over the last 12 years, however, the filibuster was used nearly 600 times!
These filibusters aren’t just being used to extend debates or stall votes—today, senators filibuster motions to proceed, preventing bills from being debated at all. A device intended to promote comprehensive discussion has turned into a tool to keep ideas from even being heard. Filibusters on motions to proceed prevent the Senate from even being able to consider ideas for how to solve our country’s big problems. For years now, small numbers of senators representing as little as 11% of the country have kept the Senate from even discussing important legislation that has passed committee review.
“Virtual filibusters” allow small numbers of senators to effortlessly place personal political agendas above the work of government with no consequence. As a result, even routine Senate functions like approving executive appointees get mired in partisan politics, resulting in [numerous] vacancies on federal judiciary benches. Major pieces of legislation … have enjoyed majority support in the Senate yet died in the face of filibusters for lack of cloture.
Legislation that should pass into law has been canceled and courts have been thrown into disarray, but the senators who have helped make that happen have never needed to actually make a case to their colleagues or their constituents.
Source: About The Filibuster.
It would be difficult to find a more convincing example to serve as evidence that a paradigm shift is clearly underway in America’s government.
Four current facts render the original rationale for the filibuster no longer valid: 1) the extremely polarized environment [two parties whose ideologies as well as their philosophies on government’s role are so far apart that there is a huge chasm between them]; 2) a “herd mentality” within both parties that usually results in “bloc votes” along party lines [although the failure of the first attempt to repeal and replace the ACA shows that the Republicans are not quite as monolithic as the Democrats in this context]; 3) a total focus on gaining, maintaining, or restoring party dominance, and on personal reelection [for all the warm and fuzzy rhetoric about helping people, it’s the power focus that drives individual actions of individual lawmakers]; and 4) a huge swath of what one radio talkshow host calls “low information voters” [unfortunately, this is probably the largest single segment of voters].
These facts, coupled with what I strongly believe is the beginning of the end of the two-party system in America [see these links at this site: Revisiting Hope And Change; Binary Party Affiliation Choices — We Need Something Better], are moving us rapidly toward more and more tight-margin votes — which, if the “last plank left” in the filibuster rule remains in place, will produce even more gridlock than we have seen in recent years. This dysfunctional government [see the Dysfunctional Government page at this site] is clearly a part of the Current Paradigm that is rapidly giving way to the New Paradigm.
So “Shoot For The Moon”, Senator McConnell!
So Senator McConnell, just go ahead and “shoot for the moon”, as players of at least one card game say when bidding a hand they think can win them every trick. Go ahead and get rid of the filibuster altogether. You’ll catch a lot of flack initially, but the blistering speed with which you will be able to get great things done will ultimately be what you, Speaker Ryan, others in party leadership, and President Trump and his administration will be remembered for decades from now.
Charles M. Jones
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