A friend of mine and I are in disagreement. He is a strong supporter of the Senate filibuster rules as a means to protect the rights of the minority. I believe that the Senate filibuster rules are unconstitutional and should be stricken down. Where do you stand on this important subject, or do you think that it is much ado about nothing? How would life be different without Senate filibuster rules?
Since my friend is not writing this, I guess that he is at a distinct disadvantage in this argument, but I will at least attempt to present a fair assessment of some areas that having filibuster rules may work to our advantage. Most often he makes the “to protect us from ourselves” argument. Filibuster rules do offer some form of protection to the minority positions that would be subject to the tyranny of the majority. I would counter with the argument that the majority that we are trying to protect ourselves from is the same majority that was elected by the American people to act as our voice for legislation. So essentially the argument then becomes, “do we need to protect ourselves from ourselves?”
Another argument that he puts forth is the tradition of the filibuster, but I find this interpretation archaic and way out of touch with the realities of today. In the very distant past, I could understand a faction of the Senate holding a lengthy filibuster while trying to get members of their party back to the Senate chambers for a vote, as this might take quite a while in the age of horse and buggy, but we live in a different world today and if reason is to prevail, we have other options now. A Senator, with some other changes to archaic rules, could just as easily “tweet” or go on-line to a secure account to cast their vote today.
When discussing this issue with my son that works at the American Constitution Society in Washington, my son explained to me that the reason the filibuster is not unconstitutional, despite language in the constitution that supports majority rule in the senate, is because the constitution does not expressly forbid the filibuster. OK, I find this to be quite a leap in logic as the constitution doesn’t expressly forbid murder either, so is murder now OK? When I read the constitution, I see language that specifically details how a tie vote is to be concluded, and that is by the vote of the Vice President. Filibusters and the process of having cloture votes to override filibusters effectively mutes this defined procedure. This in turn thwarts the prescribed balance of power between the legislative, executive, and judicial branches by keeping new laws from making it to the Presidents desk for signature and to the courts for challenges on their constitutionality.
What does all of this have to do with the unemployed? In the recent past, Republicans threatening to filibuster legislation allowing for the extension of unemployment benefits have forced the Democrats to attempt to override the filibuster through cloture votes. This has been, and will be, a major issue as long as the filibuster remains a viable tool for the opposition party to use in the Senate. It circumvents the will of the people being enacted, and this is just wrong on so many levels. With the vast majority of Americans being focused on improving the economy and helping their fellow unemployed citizens that are in great need, we now have them being held hostage by the minority. The filibuster is as likely to be used to support evil as good as evidenced by the long filibusters used in an attempt to block passage of legislation back during the Civil Rights Movement.
For those that may be wondering, I believe in the old “what’s good for the goose, is good for the gander” argument and the fact that the recent midterm elections have changed the political landscape does not change my mind one little bit. The majority is the majority and they have been empowered by the American people to conduct the nations business. If they do not meet the needs of the people: that is why we have elections. I would much prefer to hear impassioned debate on the passage of controversial legislation and then see a vote than to see continued gridlock and posturing. I believe our forefathers wanted Congress to mean progress and to be a reflection of the will of the people and not the desires of the few. I believe that unemployment extensions and relief for the 99ers would have been passed long ago without filibuster rules in the Senate, but then again, I’ll never know.