Progressivism vs. the filibuster
By George F. Will
Published: Saturday, Dec. 22, 2012, 8:56 p.m.
When evaluating Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's ideas for making the Senate more like the House, consider the source. Reid, D-Nev., is just a legislative mechanic trying to make Congress' machinery efficiently responsive to his party's progressivism.
Progressives think the “living” Constitution gives government powers sufficient for whatever its ambitions are, enabling it to respond quickly to clamorous majorities. Hence the progressive campaign to substantially weaken senators' ability to use filibusters to delay action.
In 1917, the Senate adopted the cloture rule whereby debate could be ended by a two-thirds majority vote. In 1975, the requirement was lowered to three-fifths. With another weakening of minority rights, the Senate will resemble the House, where the majority controls the process and the disregarded minority can only hope to one day become the majority and repay disregard in kind.
The point of progressivism is to progress up from the Founders' fetish with limiting government and restraining majorities. Hence progressives' animus against the filibuster.
Since there have been 50 states, Republicans have never had 60 senators. Democrats have had that many after 11 elections. Both parties are situational ethicists — in 2005, a GOP Senate majority threatened to forbid filibusters of judicial nominees during George W. Bush's administration. However, when filibusters impede the liberal agenda, excited editorials and solemn seminars deplore the “constitutional crisis” of a “dysfunctional Congress.”
Recourse to filibusters has increased with the 70 times Reid has used a parliamentary device (“filling the tree”) to limit and even deny the minority's right to offer amendments to legislation. Furthermore, 69 times Reid has bypassed committees, bringing bills written in private directly to the Senate floor without GOP participation. Progressives simultaneously complain about the filibuster, whereby the minority can give an overbearing majority incentive to compromise, and the absence of compromise.
Under Senate rules, it takes 67 votes to change the rules. Reid, however, may decide that in January, on the new session's first day, the “new” Senate can adopt new rules by a simple majority. This ignores the fact that the Senate, unlike the House, is a continuing body because, with staggered elections, no more than one-third of its members can be new at any time.
Four House Democrats have asked a federal court to declare Senate filibusters unconstitutional. They say the supermajority needed to end a filibuster infringes majority rule and dilutes House members' votes. The court has many sufficient reasons for refusing to so rule, including these two:
The Constitution says each house of Congress “may determine the rules of its proceedings.” Also, it requires of Congress six supermajorities (for ratifying treaties, proposing constitutional amendments for ratification, impeachment convictions, overriding vetoes, expelling members and removing an incapacitated president who objects). It is a perverse non sequitur to say that if the Constitution does not mandate a particular supermajority, it is impermissible.
Conservatives can tolerate liberal filibusters more easily than liberals, who relish hyperkinetic government, can tolerate conservative filibusters. Come January, 21 of Reid's 55 Democrats will have come to the Senate in 2009 or later. Never in the minority, they must remember this: Some day they may be.
George F. Will is a columnist for The Washington Post and Newsweek.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- LeBeau wants to come back as Steelers defensive coordinator
- Steelers safety Polamalu finds himself in tough position
- Kovacevic: A great day to appreciate No. 68
- Connellsville’s 1956 Sesquicentennial queen recalls teen years, the best of times
- Pitt’s Donald sweeps Outland, Bednarik awards, named All-American
- Power play, penalty kill help put Penguins on another 100-point pace
- Duquesne schools, community leaders look for student connection
- Pair jailed in drugstore robbery
- Concert promoter’s book shares 40 years of music memories, trade secrets, celeb antics
- Duo sought in spate of graffiti
- Garden Theater developer says plans changing for block’s buildings