The Scorched-Earth Senate
Category: News & PoliticsVia: vic-eldred • one month ago • 47 comments
By: Mitch McConnell (WSJ)
'The legislative filibuster is the most important distinction between the Senate and the House," one of my colleagues said a few years ago. "Without the 60-vote threshold for legislation, the Senate becomes a majoritarian institution, just like the House, much more subject to the winds of short-term electoral change. No senator would like to see that happen."
That was the Democratic leader, Chuck Schumer, in April 2017.
When President Trump pressed Republicans to kill the filibuster, our Democratic colleagues cried foul. When our Republican majority stood on principle and refused to wreck the rules, our Democratic colleagues happily used the filibuster themselves. In some cases, they blocked legislation like Sen. Tim Scott's police-reform bill. Other times, they simply did what minority parties always do—used the mere existence of the filibuster to influence must-pass legislation long before it got to the floor.
There's so much emphasis on the most extreme bills that either party might pass with a simple majority that people forget the Senate's 60-vote threshold is the only reason that any routine, must-pass legislation is bipartisan when government is united. Big funding deals, appropriation bills, farm bills, highway bills, the defense authorization bill—the 60-vote threshold of Senate Rule 22 backstops all of it.
The Senate Democrats who are pressuring our colleagues from Arizona and West Virginia to reverse their commitments are arguing for a radically less stable and less consensus-driven system of government. Nothing in federal law would ever be settled. That may be what a few liberal activists want, but does anyone believe the American people were voting for an entirely new system of government by electing Joe Biden to the White House, a narrow House majority, and a 50-50 Senate?
Some Democratic senators seem to imagine that breaking the rules on a razor-thin majority would be a tidy-trade-off. Sure, it might damage the institution, but then nothing would stand between them and their entire agenda, a new era of fast-track policy-making. But anyone who really knows the Senate knows that’s not what would happen.
Nobody serving in this chamber can even begin to imagine what a completely scorched-earth Senate would look like. None of us have served one minute in the Senate that was completely drained of comity and consent. This is an institution that requires unanimous consent to turn the lights on before noon, to proceed with a garden-variety floor speech, to dispense with the reading of lengthy legislative texts, to schedule committee business, to move even uncontroversial nominees at faster than a snail’s pace.
Imagine a world where every single task requires a physical quorum of 51 senators on the floor—and, by the way, the vice president doesn’t count. Everything that Democratic Senates did to Presidents Bush and Trump, everything the Republican Senate did to President Obama, would be child’s play compared with the disaster that Democrats would create for their own priorities, if they broke the Senate. Even the most mundane tasks of our chamber—and therefore of the Biden presidency—would become much harder, not easier, in a postnuclear 50-50 Senate.
If the Democrats break the rules to kill Rule 22 on a 50-50 basis, then we will use every other rule to make tens of millions of Americans’ voices heard. Perhaps the majority would come after the other rules in turn. Perhaps Rule 22 would be only the first of many to fall, until the Senate ceased to be distinct from the House in any respect.
Even so, the process would be long and laborious. This chaos wouldn’t open up an express lane for the Biden presidency to speed into the history books. The Senate would be more like a 100-car pileup—nothing moving as gawkers watch.
And then there’s the small problem that majorities are never permanent. The last time a Democratic majority leader was trying to start a nuclear exchange— Harry Reid in 2013—I offered a warning. I said my colleagues would regret it a lot sooner than they thought. A few years and a few Supreme Court vacancies later, many of our Democratic colleagues admitted publicly that they did.
If the Democrats kill the legislative filibuster, history would repeat itself, but more dramatically. As soon as Republicans wound up back in control, we wouldn’t stop at erasing every liberal change that hurt the country. We’d strengthen America with all kinds of conservative policies with zero input from the other side.
How about a nationwide right-to-work law? Defunding Planned Parenthood and sanctuary cities on day one? A whole new era of domestic energy production. Sweeping new protections for conscience and the right to life of the unborn? Concealed-carry reciprocity in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Massive hardening of security on our southern border?
Even now, we saw during amendment votes days ago that certain common-sense Republican positions enjoy more support in the current Senate than some of the Democratic committee chairmen’s priorities—and this is with them in the majority.
The pendulum would swing both ways, and it would swing hard.
My Republican colleagues and I refused to kill the Senate for instant gratification. In 2017 and 2018, a sitting president lobbied me to do exactly what Democrats want to do now. I agreed with many of his policy goals, but I said no. Becoming a U.S. senator comes with higher duties than steamrolling any obstacle to short-term power.
Less than two months ago, two of our Democratic colleagues said they understand that. If they keep their word, we have a bipartisan majority that can put principle first and save the Senate.
Mr. McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, is Senate minority leader. This article is adapted from a Tuesday floor speech.
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