One of the highest-stakes games of poker in Senate history is now unfolding between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who on the issue of filibusters is not inappropriately compared to the Jimmy Stewart character in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), who has abused the filibuster more than any leader of any party in the history of the Senate.
As a reelected President Obama prepares two powerful presentations to the nation in his inaugural and State of the Union addresses, the reputation of the Senate lies in tatters. The Senate is viewed as a gridlocked and impotent institution more akin to a Third World banana republic than the great deliberative body envisioned when Thomas Jefferson first wrote his Senate rules. The reason is the destruction of comity and respect for majority rule caused by the grotesque and unprecedented abuse of the filibuster by Senate Republicans.
My advice to McConnell is to offer a bipartisan proposal to reform the filibuster rules by mutual agreement, in line with the historical precedents of the Senate, without forcing Democrats to resort to the “nuclear option,” which is best avoided if possible but employed if necessary.
The rights of the minority to filibuster on rare matters of paramount importance are best preserved. The abuse by the minority of filibustering virtually all matters, which destroys the Senate with a dictatorship of obstruction, is alien to the history and tradition of the Senate, and creates gridlock that is anathema to voters, who just elected more Senate Democrats. It must be ended.
Filibustering senators should be required speak on the floor, live on C-SPAN, in full view of local media and constituents, explaining why Republicans threaten a filibuster against a potential nominee for secretary of State for reasons that are grossly unfair to her, when those same Republicans stood as one to confirm a Republican secretary of State whose false statements about intelligence were exploited to create fear to drive America to war. Some Republicans threaten a filibuster that could drive America to a new economic crash if the wealthy are asked to pay their fair share of taxes, while other Republicans threaten a filibuster that could drive America to a new economic crash unless Democrats agree to severe and aggressive cuts to Medicare, Medicaid or Social Security.
Republicans filibuster against bills to create jobs by hiring back police, firefighters and teachers. Republicans filibuster against bills to create jobs by rebuilding decaying roads, bridges, ports and schools.
Republicans filibuster against bills to advance pay equity for women. Republicans filibuster against bills to reduce job discrimination against women.
Donald Trump, who considered a bid for the White House on a platform denying the president’s American birth, looks comparatively rational attacking his party’s defeated nominee for demagoguery about immigration. Yet Republicans filibuster against bills that would make immigration law more rational and fair.
First, many Republicans deny science about climate change, then Republicans filibuster against bills to address climate change. Even when Obama accepts ideas that originated with Republicans on healthcare, energy and the environment, Republicans filibuster against their own ideas.
A new CNN poll finds that 70 percent of Americans believe Republicans should do more to cooperate with President Obama. Democrats won powerful victories in three of the last four national elections (2006, 2008 and 2012). Democrats have substantial and growing leads with key demographic groups that will define the political future, including women, Hispanics and young people.
Democrats have increased their majority in the Senate, are likely to maintain Senate control for a long time, and could achieve an FDR-magnitude political realignment if Republicans cement their brand as abusing fringe tactics, promoting unpopular policies, being dominated by extreme factions and creating gridlock that voters deplore.
Harry Reid is on very solid ground trying to make the Senate work as the Founders intended and voters demand. Reid may not be Jimmy Stewart, but Republicans would be wise to work with him.