Bluefield Daily Telegraph
A filibuster is a lengthy speech used in the U.S. Senate to delay or block legislative action, a mechanism with a long history.
The U.S. Senate website explains that, “In the early years of Congress, representatives as well as senators could filibuster. As the House of Representatives grew in numbers, however, revisions to the House rules limited debate. In the smaller Senate, unlimited debate continued on the grounds that any senator should have the right to speak as long as necessary on any issue.”
Senate rules have permitted a senator, or a series of senators, to speak for as long as they wish and on any topic they choose, unless “three-fifths of the Senators duly chosen and sworn” brings debate to a close by invoking cloture under Senate Rule XXII.
The filibuster, thought by some to be an unconstitutional, unfair, historical relic, is thought by others to protect the rights of the minority against the tyranny of the majority. And only eight years ago prominent Democrats loudly defended the filibuster and lambasted the Republican majority for suggesting an end to it.
In 2005, then-senator and now-president of the United States Barack Obama, D-Ill., said, “What [the American people] don’t expect is for one party, be it Republican or Democrat, to change the rules in the middle of the game so that they can make all the decisions while the other party is told to sit down and keep quiet. The American people want less partisanship in this town, but everyone in this chamber knows that if the majority chooses to end the filibuster, if they choose to change the rules and put an end to democratic debate, then the fighting and the bitterness and the gridlock will only get worse.”
During the same debate then-Minority Leader and current Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said, “Mr. President, yesterday morning I spoke here about a statement the majority leader issued calling the filibuster a ‘procedural gimmick.’ ... No Mr. President, the filibuster is not a scheme. And it is not new. The filibuster is far from a ‘procedural gimmick.’ It is part of the fabric of this institution. It was well known in colonial legislatures, and it is an integral part of our country’s 217 years of history. ... It encourages moderation and consensus. It gives voice to the minority, so that cooler heads may prevail. ... And it is very much in keeping with the spirit of the government established by the framers of our Constitution: limited government. Separation of Power. Checks and Balances. Mr. President, the filibuster is a critical tool in keeping the majority in check.”
Other notable Democrats also supported the filibuster, which is known as “The Soul of the Senate.” Joe Biden, then-Senator and now vice president of the United States, former senator and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Senator Diane Feinstein were part of the opposition. In the end, the idea of changing the rules was abandoned.
But that was then. Last week the Senate Democrat majority changed the very rule it so strongly defended in 2005.
In their assault on this well respected legislative device they strongly defended in 2005, when the majority shoe was on the other foot, the majority party changed it for presidential appointments, which now require only a simple majority. Their excuse: Republicans did not agree with the president’s nominations for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, and administrative agency appointments.
The National Center for Policy Analysis opines that in addition to judicial positions “the change will almost certainly result in more confirmations of presidential nominees — for example, the 15-member Independent Payment Advisory Board tasked with controlling health care spending.” Which is interesting, given the potential for this issue to have been brought forth to distract the nation’s attention from the Obamacare debacle.
In 1975 the Democrat majority of the Senate reduced the majority vote needed to end a filibuster from two-thirds of the Senate (67 votes) to three-fifths (60 votes). Now it’s just 51 votes.
Senate Democrats decided that if they can’t get their way playing by decades-old rules, they could just change them. Yes we can!
It is important for the Senate to debate appointments so that people who are not qualified or whose agenda is narrow and ideological can be identified and defeated. That is precisely why the filibuster exists: to prevent the presidency from becoming a monarchy. Given the performance of the IRS, the NSA, the State Department’s gross failure in Benghazi and the destructive actions of the EPA, there is more than enough evidence to warrant closely examining and perhaps blocking some of this president’s appointments.
Democrats like this new arrangement with a Democrat in the White House but, God willing, that won’t always be the case. The ability of a president to put questionable and even unqualified people on the federal bench and at the head of federal agencies just became much easier.
The founders saw the dangers of a tyrannical majority party and built in safeguards to insure that Congress’ activities would be slow and difficult. Senate Democrats substantially gutted those safeguards a second time.
James H. “Smokey” Shott, a resident of Bluefield, Va., is a Daily Telegraph columnist.