About a year ago Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid changed the rules in the Senate to remove the filibuster for confirming appointments. What was worse was how he did it. Normally rule changes in the Senate require a 67 vote majority (ending a filibuster requires just 60 votes), but Reid changed the rules with a simple majority vote so that appointments also require only a simple majority.
He’s now set a precedent whereby the majority party can change the Senate rules – including ending filibusters for other sorts of legislation – by a simple majority.
I’ve honestly never understood why those with a fetish for bipartisanship were always so hung up on ending the filibuster. North Dakota Senator Heidi Heitkamp, an outspoken fetishist for bipartisanship, voted with Reid to gut the filibuster last year and set a precedent for simple majority rule changes. Yet, what did that accomplish except open a window whereby the majority party can act without any need to involve the minority party at all?
On a side note, I wonder if Heitkamp is regretting that vote now as she postures herself as a swing vote in the Democrat minority in the new Congress? She voted to help gut the power of the filibuster, yet the only thing that made supposed “swing votes” like Heitkamp powerful was the filibuster which required the majority party to reach out.
Many see the filibuster as an obstacle to progress. I see it as a de facto mandate for bipartisanship. A rule which requires that the majority party, as long as it holds less than 60 seats in the Senate, get at least a little buy in from people on the other side.
Which brings us to what Republicans will do on the filibuster in the new Congress. To be clear, the filibuster is only gone for appointments (though, again, Reid set a precedent whereby it can now be changed for all policy by a simple majority vote), but I think Republicans should restore it in its entirety.
Senator John Hoeven, among other Republicans, is wishy-washy on the subject:
Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) said he sees the merits of keeping filibuster reform, and the downsides.
“There’s a lot of things we can do procedurally, even if we do go back to 60 votes. And it does add an element of bipartisanship to these judicial appointments,” Hoeven said. “On the flip side, I believe judges should be strict constructionists.”
Hoeven echoed the sentiments of Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who said he’s mixed. Rubio pushed back on the idea that Republicans could look like hypocrites for taking advantage of filibuster reform after bashing it all year.
“I haven’t thought about it that way,” Rubio said. “I’m just thinking about what’s the thing that’s going to make the Senate work best.”
The only way the absence of the filibuster makes the Senate work better is if you measure the Senate’s success by how many bills they crank out. But that’s a very shallow way of looking at things. We should value quality over quantity, and I define quality national legislation in part as something that has more buy-in than a simple majority in the Senate.
Republicans should restore the filibuster, and restore the super-majority requirement for rule changes. Whether or not they will should serve as a measure of their integrity.