News analyses abound about the Republican Senate’s decision to do away with the filibuster for confirming Supreme Court justices. To those who lament the passing of those days when Republican and Democratic lawmakers could forge compromises and gain the requisite 60-person super-majority to avoid the snare of the filibuster, this recent development is not a good thing. But to those of us who want our newly-elected President and Members of Congress to fix what’s wrong with our nation, the filibuster has to go—and not just when it comes to the Senate’s exercise of its “advice and consent” authority under our Constitution.
The starting point is to acknowledge what ought to be obvious to every American: that our nation was founded to be a bottom-up representative democracy that is of, by, and for us, the People—reflecting the founders’ vision of a republic. The core concept was that every citizen would be represented by his respective Members of Congress, who in turn would act on an even footing: one Member, one vote on every bill (much as the Supreme Court operates). This vision was so important that it was imposed on the States, as well. Take a look at Article IV, section 4 of the Constitution, which guarantees a republican form of government for every State. Who is tasked with being the guarantor? The federal government.
Here is something of vital importance to every citizen, something long forgotten by too many of our elected representatives in Washington: Congress does not belong to its Members; it belongs to us. We, the People, by ordaining our Constitution, created the federal government; and we established not only its tripartite structure (with the legislative, executive, and judicial branches), but also the limited powers that each branch could exercise. In the case of Congress, we provided that each House would act by majority vote, except in those instances in which we determined that a super-majority should be required (as, for example, when Congress seeks to overturn a presidential veto of legislation). Nowhere did we authorize the Senate or the House of Representatives to concoct its own procedures to frustrate majority rule.
Yet that is precisely what the filibuster was for, from its nineteenth-century origins through its most recent applications on the Senate floor. Jimmy Stewart’s impassioned exhibition of the filibuster in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington notwithstanding, our elected officials should be offering their speeches in the context of trying to persuade a majority to adopt their views, rather than shutting down the democratic process.
The biggest reason for the filibuster’s survival has been the fear of majority-party incumbents that they would one day lose their majority position and have to depend on the filibuster to obstruct the opposition’s agenda. But the notion that the Democrats can be depended upon to retain the filibuster should they regain majority status was obliterated when Harry Reid suspended the filibuster to ram through the Democrats’ slate of lower-court nominees under the Obama administration. Mitch McConnell’s one-upping of Reid by nixing the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees is bound to be topped in the next Democratic Senate.
Where does that leave the Republicans in Congress? The time has come for them to do away with the filibuster altogether, along with any other arcane procedures that frustrate majority rule. Among other benefits, this would enable them to repeal and replace (or, better yet, repeal and redirect) ObamaCare in one fell swoop, rather than through three or more stages of legislation, most of which would otherwise be subject to Democratic filibusters. We, the People, have waited too long for positive changes in healthcare, taxation, regulation, education, and so much more—all of which could be undermined by the filibuster.
If the Republican incumbents are worried about becoming a minority party again, then their best strategy is not to hang on to anti-democratic processes, but instead to act boldly and show that they can govern effectively while the opportunity is at hand. If they succeed in making America great again, we’ll reward them at the polls. In the meantime, their trust should not be given to the Democrats to keep the filibuster. Instead, they should trust the concept of a republican form of government—meaning, in substance, that they should trust us.