The conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer confessed in his weekly column that he had been “radicalized” by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid and President Barack Obama. The conduct of Senate Democrats from 2007 to 2015 has led him to abandon all caution. In his column published on Friday, Krauthammer said that Democratic obstructionism is going to put Republicans in an untenable position unless they move to do away with the filibuster. “It’s time to go nuclear,” he wrote.
Krauthammer observed that Democrats are likely going to be able to kill a House bill that would fund the Department of Homeland Security funding while preventing the implementation of Obama’s executive orders. “And as the night follows day, Republicans, not the filibustering Democrats, will be blamed for shutting down DHS and jeopardizing the nation’s safety at a time of heightened international terrorism,” he wrote.
If the choice is between being blamed for another “shutdown,” this time of the department responsible for safeguarding American national security amid heightened anxiety surrounding the terrorist threat, and doing away with a semi-arcane parliamentary feature of the upper chamber of Congress, there is no choice.
I know that breaks a lot of china. But Congress is already knee-deep in fractured porcelain. On policy, Obama has repeatedly usurped congressional power, most egregiously with an executive amnesty for illegal immigrants that for four years he himself had insisted was unlawful (a view given significant support this week in a federal district court).
As for procedure, then-majority leader Reid (D-Nev.) went nuclear in November 2013 when he abolished the filibuster for presidential appointees and judicial nominees (below the Supreme Court). He did it to pack the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals with liberals. The nation’s liberal chorus cheered. “Elections are supposed to have consequences,” read one typical commentary. “It was time to push the button.” Boom.
If Republicans do not do away with the filibuster while they have the majority, Krauthammer observed, Democrats will only erode it further when they eventually reassume control of the Senate. He added that it is possible Republicans can renegotiate the return of the filibuster and amend the process of changing Senate rules so that they can never again be reshaped by a partisan majority. In the meantime, the GOP will be saved from the perilous predicament in which they find themselves.
Not everyone is thrilled about this tactical approach, though.
“However tempting it may be in the short term to scrap the filibuster now that Republicans hold the Senate, in the long term, it would be a disaster for conservatism, removing one of the last remaining barriers to the United States becoming a European socialist welfare state,” The Washington Examiner’s Philip Klein noted. “There’s a good reason why ending the filibuster has become a cause of many leading progressives in recent years.”
As an example, just imagine if Republicans had triggered the so-called nuclear option for judicial nominations back in 2005, when many were urging them to do so. Using this as a pretext, Harry Reid certainly would have pressed the button to end the legislative filibuster once Democrats took control.
And the first two years of the Obama administration, before they had to face voters, Democrats could have gone even further in expanding the role of government. The economic stimulus bill would have been more expensive and Obamacare would have injected government even further into the healthcare system (at a minimum, a “public option” would have been a certainty). Democrats would have been able to deny workers the right to a secret ballot in union elections, allowing Big Labor to intimidate workers into joining unions.
There are no permanent majorities in American politics, and Democrats will be back in charge again one day. Republicans will dearly miss the filibuster when they are again in the minority. In the interim, the notion that the press will only be slightly easier on the GOP if they were to do away with the filibuster rather than to pursue a DHS shutdown is probably misguided. The left will discover a newfound appreciation for minority rights if the GOP went nuclear. Along with their allies in the press, Democrats would viciously denounce the GOP-led coup in the Senate. If the public is unfamiliar with the value of the filibuster today, they will be intimately acquainted with it following a media-driven crash course on parliamentary procedure.
It’s an interesting debate, but abolishing the filibuster is only likely to provide Republicans with limited benefits in the near-term. And they will be offset by the lack of trust in the Republican Party’s ability to govern this maneuver would engender in the public. It’s a risky move, and the risks may just be prohibitive.