As we await a vote scheduled for noon to end the filibuster and pass the short-term spending measure -- or else allow Senate Democrats to continue shutting down the government -- we once again hear talk that senators should kill the filibuster. Not for the first time, President Trump is making that case (via Politico):
‘If stalemate continues, Republicans should go to 51% (Nuclear Option) and vote on real, long term budget, no C.R.’s!,’ the president wrote on Twitter (Sunday) shortly after 7:30 a.m.
“In the past, key GOP senators, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), have rebuffed the president, telling him that going nuclear and ending the legislative filibuster could be a damaging move in the long term. If Republicans lost control of the chamber, a 51-vote threshold for legislation could potentially make it easier for more liberal priorities, such as universal health care, to pass the Senate.
“A spokesman for McConnell said Sunday: ‘The Republican Conference opposes changing the rules on legislation.’”
Despite mounting frustration over the shutdown and various other issues, McConnell is still right about this. Our federal system is not intended to allow easy, rapid passage of new laws. And although the filibuster is not part of the Constitution, it has proved effective at curbing the partisan-majority rule the Founders did intend to prevent.
The only decent argument to the contrary is also a partisan one: If Republicans don’t kill the filibuster now for what they want, Democrats will do it one day. But that’s still short-sighted. Democrats could have done this at various times in recent years and didn’t. Maybe they’ll change course when they’re next in the majority, maybe they won’t. But if Republicans do it now, we’ll certainly have the answer to that question -- and the next Democratic majority could come as soon as this time next year. So it’s ultimately a self-defeating argument for Republicans.
A certain amount of fatalism is driving this argument, but it’s important to remember the political process still works for addressing these concerns. Not every filibuster is wrong-headed, nor is every shutdown. Voters can decide. They didn’t punish Republicans for the 2013 shutdown; they may or may not punish Democrats for this one. One way the GOP might help Democrats avoid a bad political outcome from this stunt would be to throw out a measure that Americans may not always like, but should recognize as the last thing standing between us and even more whipsaw, partisan lawmaking.