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September 22, 2017

No the Senate Didn’t Die This Week. It’s Been Dead for Quite Some Time


Okay, it’s time for a reality check here. Yes, it’s regrettable that the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees is now a thing of the past, and for that both parties much share in the blame. Mitch McConnell’s refusal to allow Merrick Garland an up or down vote precipitated this fiasco, and Chuck Schumer’s refusal to stand up to his base sealed the deal. But, contrary to what I’ve been hearing and reading, the Senate didn’t die this week. Sadly, it’s been dead for quite some time.

For the last eight years the Senate was where bills came to die. As Minority Leader, McConnell did everything possible to block Barack Obama’s agenda, as well as many of his cabinet and judicial nominations. From 2009 through 2014, when Democrats controlled the chamber, the confirmation process for executive nominees averaged 127 days, more than twice that of Ronald Reagan’s nominees. In Obama’s first term alone Republicans filibustered 27 of his nominees. By comparison the total number of nominees that were filibustered during George Bush and Bill Clinton’s first terms were 7 and 9 respectively.

When McConnell wouldn’t stand down on his party’s obstructionism, then Majority Leader Harry Reid decided to invoke the nuclear option for all appointments except the Supreme Court. This allowed Obama to fill dozens of openings on the lower courts, but it also set a dangerous precedent. When the GOP took the Senate in the 2014 midterms, the spigot was shut off permanently. The Senate came to a virtual standstill.

Now with a Republican in the White House, Democrats find themselves in the same position their counterparts were in. So when Trump nominated Neil Gorsuch for the Supreme Court, they proceeded to filibuster him. While some are calling the move that McConnell made extraordinary, I think in some respects it was inevitable. Had Hillary and the Democrats prevailed last November, the likelihood is that Schumer would’ve done the same thing.

The sad truth is that the partisan bickering in Washington has made the Senate all but irrelevant. The only question remaining to be answered is whether McConnell will blow up the filibuster altogether. Even as we speak Republican Susan Collins and Democrat Chris Coons have gotten more than 60 senators to sign a letter to McConnell and Schumer urging them to keep the filibuster intact for legislation. We’ll know soon enough if their efforts were successful when the House passes its tax “reform” bill, which will probably happen sometime in the Fall, assuming Republicans don’t get sidetracked by yet another fruitless Obamacare repeal attempt. If I’m any judge, I’d say the filibuster is toast.

Let’s face facts. There is no such thing as consensus governing anymore. Neither party has any incentive to negotiate with the other. Indeed, just the opposite. As we saw all too clearly, the decision to filibuster Gorsuch was motivated solely out of fear of what progressives would do to any Democrats who didn’t comply. What we now have are two political parties that are more afraid of their bases than are actually governing the country. For eight years McConnell had the Tea Party breathing down his neck; now it is Chuck Schumer who will face the wrath of the Left.

To tell you the truth, I’m kind of relieved that McConnell went nuclear. While I am certainly not looking forward to what the GOP has in store for the country, the fact that they will be able to pass almost any bill or nominee they choose should provide Democrats with all the incentive they need to retake the Senate in 2018. Hiding behind a 60-vote threshold as a way of holding the legislative branch hostage was childish to begin with. It was wrong when Republicans did it to Obama; it would’ve been equally wrong had Democrats gotten away with doing it to Trump.

Put succinctly, elections have consequences. Some more than others. Progressives would do well to remember that fact the next time they find themselves in a voting booth.

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Peter Fegan

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