Perhaps Mitch McConnell could have put this argument more simply. Why, he might have asked, would Senate Democrats continue to take advice from Harry Reid on rules changes? Earlier this month, Reid wrote an argument in the New York Times for abolition of “the filibuster in all its forms,” declaring that “the future of our country is sacrificed at the altar of the filibuster.”
Nonsense, McConnell retorted on the same platform today. After reminding Senate Democrats just how well Reid’s strategy for rules changes have worked out for them over the last couple of years, McConnell gets down to his defense of the filibuster:
On legislation, however, the Senate’s treasured tradition is not efficiency but deliberation. One of the body’s central purposes is making new laws earn broader support than what is required for a bare majority in the House. The legislative filibuster does not appear in the Constitution’s text, but it is central to the order the Constitution sets forth. It echoes James Madison’s explanation in Federalist 62 that the Senate is designed not to rubber-stamp House bills but to act as an “additional impediment” and “complicated check” on “improper acts of legislation.” It embodies Thomas Jefferson’s principle that “great innovations should not be forced on slender majorities.”
Yes, the Senate’s design makes it difficult for one party to enact sweeping legislation on its own. Yes, the filibuster makes policy less likely to seesaw wildly with every election. These are features, not bugs. Our country doesn’t need a second House of Representatives with fewer members and longer terms. America needs the Senate to be the Senate.
I recognize it may seem odd that a Senate majority leader opposes a proposal to increase his own power. Certainly it is curious that liberals are choosing this moment, when Americans have elected Republican majorities three consecutive times and counting, to attack the minority’s powers.
But my Republican colleagues and I have not and will not vandalize this core tradition for short-term gain. We recognize what everyone should recognize — there are no permanent victories in politics. No Republican has any trouble imagining the laundry list of socialist policies that 51 Senate Democrats would happily inflict on Middle America in a filibuster-free Senate.
The problem Democrats have with the Senate isn’t the filibuster, McConnell argues, but their increasingly radical agenda:
In this country, radical changes face a high bar by design. It is telling that today’s left-wing activists would rather lower that bar than produce ideas that can meet it.
Perhaps we should recognize that Republicans have had some issues with legislative filibusters in the past, too. The repeal of ObamaCare ran up hard against that, forcing McConnell to take a page out of Reid’s playbook and use the reconciliation process to attempt to pass it. That effort famously failed anyway, but the tradeoffs needed to qualify under reconciliation played a part in that failure.
Still, McConnell is largely correct in that the legislative filibuster serves a purpose consistent with the Senate’s overall constitutional role. Appointments to office should have always been made quickly and efficiently, McConnell argues, which is why eliminating the filibuster on presidential appointments made sense in the current maximalist political climate. The constitutional purpose of the Senate, McConnell argues, is to slow down the legislative process. It was actually to represent the state governments, but the intent for legislation was certainly that, before the 17th Amendment canceled out that effect. The legislative filibuster is all that remains to keep that intent in place.
In the present radical environment in which Democrats operate, the filibuster is seriously endangered. If they force an end to it, it won’t take long for them to “rue the day” they took Harry Reid’s advice on rules strategy. This time, they won’t have any excuse for that choice.