David Harsanyi / July 12, 2013

Save the Filibuster!

You know what would make life a lot easier? A direct democracy. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, the man who once argued that weakening the Senate filibuster would “destroy the very checks and balances our Founding Fathers put in place to prevent absolute power by any one branch of government,” is supposedly ready to use the “nuclear option.” It would allow a simple majority to change rules to overcome a filibuster. And no matter how narrow Reid says the scope of his power grab would be, in the long run, it would kill the filibuster, and he knows it.

You know what would make life a lot easier? A direct democracy.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, the man who once argued that weakening the Senate filibuster would “destroy the very checks and balances our Founding Fathers put in place to prevent absolute power by any one branch of government,” is supposedly ready to use the “nuclear option.” It would allow a simple majority to change rules to overcome a filibuster. And no matter how narrow Reid says the scope of his power grab would be, in the long run, it would kill the filibuster, and he knows it.

Why now? Well, Reid claims that Republicans have engaged in “unprecedented” obstructionism. Here’s how Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon explained the Democrats’ reasoning to The New York Times: Republicans, he alleges, “are going to disable the executive branch if a minority of the Senate disagrees with or dislikes the president the people elect. It’s come into a realm where it’s just unacceptable because if the executive branch can’t function, then the nation can’t respond to the big challenges it faces.”

Since attaining power, Senate Democrats, powerless to face America’s “big challenges,” have passed a nearly trillion-dollar stimulus bill, a bill to reform the entire health care system, far-reaching immigration legislation that would create tens of millions of new citizens and a mass of regulations that would reform the entire financial sector. Oh, and the president has appointed two Supreme Court justices with almost no genuine opposition.

Republicans must be the most inept obstructionists of all time.

Perhaps Merkley is under the impression that a constitutional mandate compels the GOP to ensure that a far-left-wing populist is running the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (which didn’t even exist until 2011) or the National Labor Relations Board. Maybe he believes that Republicans are under an obligation to provide him with acceptable philosophical reasons to oppose nominees and legislation. Neither of those is a prerequisite for filibustering.

Merkley and Reid are the ones, in fact, creating arbitrary boundaries for the filibuster – which has been increasingly used by both parties over the past decade – because they dislike and disagree with the reasoning of the minority. After all, if the executive branch “can’t function,” how on earth is the president creating millions of jobs, saving the planet from climate change and fighting for gay marriage and DREAMers and you?

Should Republicans be using the filibuster (or the threat of it) as often as they are? That’s up for debate. I happen to believe it’s overused. Maybe they’ll pay a political price.

As for Reid, the threat of filibuster reform may well be politics, a bluff meant to bring attention to these saboteurs of progress in the Senate. But for many activists pushing Democrats, it’s about a lot more. Though both parties detest the filibuster when in power, progressives hold an enduring contempt for it because they hold an enduring contempt for federalism in general. A more majoritarian process makes it easier to cash in on fleeting public sentiments and steamroll an array of comprehensive “reforms” to impel even the most reactionary states to partner up with Washington.

The federal government has been able to dictate, cajole and blackmail states into participating in nearly every legislative effort – from highway bills to welfare expansions to Obamacare. That’s one of the benefits of open-ended deficit spending. You’re always loaded. A filibuster forces real compromise and protects the smaller states. We’re built for evolutionary, not revolutionary, change. The filibuster slows things down. That fact drives those embarked on a self-proclaimed mission to remake the nation a bit restless, a bit too eager to deploy absurd arguments and, perhaps, prepared to abuse their power. We’ll see soon enough.

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