Thinking about the arcane rules of the Senate probably doesn’t set your heart aflutter. But something could happen soon to one rule that would stop your heart cold if you knew the consequences.
America’s founders created the House and Senate. They made both bodies different. Though it has worked pretty well so far, a fundamental institution of the U.S. government is in grave danger.
I’m talking about the recent effort to take away certain rights of individual senators by attempting to eliminate the filibuster. Currently, any senator can extend debate indefinitely on an issue — until 60 senators vote to end discussion.
Even freshman senators in the minority party have the power to make themselves heard on any issue — and ensure that the views of the people in their states are considered.
The Senate is where people who live in low-population states have a voice. The filibuster makes this possible.
The senators proposing to end the filibuster may be frustrated and worried. They lost power in the past election. They don’t have close to 60 votes anymore. It’s harder to stop a filibuster — but we all have to live under the laws passed by Congress. We all need a say.
The current Senate majority will not be the majority party forever. I have a list of quotes describing the filibuster as “sacred” and “cherished” from senators in both parties. They decry the elimination of the filibuster as a “naked power grab” and a “constitutional crisis.” These words were uttered a few years ago by some of the same people who are rejecting what they once loved.
Now, they say the filibuster has been abused and that they’ve had to overcome filibusters a record number of times. Those arguments fall flat when you look a little deeper. We have just been through two years when legislating was the exception, not the rule. But it wasn’t because of filibusters.
Over the past two years, the tried-and-true process of turning a bill into a law was short-circuited. Thousand-page bills were thrown together behind closed doors by one party, then sent directly to the Senate floor without debate by the committees of jurisdiction.
Senators were prevented from offering amendments. Monstrous bills were expected to be voted on without enough time for senators to read them or to offer suggestions on how to make them better. That is not the way to legislate.
When bills don’t go through the committee process, errors happen. The process exists for a reason. Bills that go through it have a difficult time, and should, if they are voted out on party lines. The committee process works.