In the wake of the Massachusetts election on Tuesday night, liberals in Congress have once again embarked on a course to change the rules to fit their needs. Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) intends to introduce a bill that would eliminate the 60 vote threshold to end debate in the U.S. Senate. Ironically, the timing of their newest rule-changing efforts is a direct result of a previous rule-change merry-go-round that they themselves are to blame for. In 2004, Senator John Kerry (D-MA) was running for President, and the Governor of Massachusetts was Republican Mitt Romney. Former Senator Ted Kennedy prodded state legislators in Massachusetts to change the appointment rules in Massachusetts so the Governor was no longer in a position to name a sitting senator if John Kerry won.
Of course, John Kerry did not win. As Senator Kennedy’s health deteriorated, he then requested that the state of Massachusetts change the rules…again. Now, Senator Kennedy wanted the Governor to make an appointment. Conveniently, Massachusetts now had a Democratic Governor in place, Deval Patrick. Kennedy was worried that the 145 day gap between his eventual passing and a special election would hurt the liberal chances of Obamacare passing immediately. So, once again the Massachusetts legislature changed the rules to suit the political needs of liberals in Washington by mandating a temporary appointment quickly followed by a special election. There was only one thing they didn’t account for…those pesky voters in Massachusetts electing a Republican. Now what? Change the rules again! Only this time, they’ll have to change federal rules, since they’ve run out of options in Massachusetts.
After campaigning as the 41st vote in Washington, Scott Brown won a decisive victory as someone who would offer a careful check and balance to the one-party rule in Washington. Voters overwhelmingly flocked to this message. Unfortunately for Democrats wishing to get Obamacare hurriedly passed with or without public support, Brown’s victory meant that once again they would have to change the rules, otherwise the bill was dead.
So now today, ironically because of the election results in Massachusetts, Democratic Senator Tom Harkin is trying to eliminate the filibuster so that unpopular legislation can get rammed through Congress without a fight. Don’t forget, the Democratic caucus has 59 votes. They only need to be bipartisan enough to convince one moderate Republican to support them, and this a moot point. But why aim for the minimum level of bipartisanship, when instead you can aim for the minimum level of public support?
The filibuster isn’t just some Senate procedure that comes and goes with the tide. Our founding fathers were convinced that the Senate not simply be a smaller carbon-copy version of the House, where simple majorities rule. It was to be a deliberative body that exercised greater control over decisions of import. But that argument is beside the point.
The point is that Democrats were hypocritically incensed when Republicans even debated changing the rules during the George W. Bush administration when liberals refused to allow the President’s judicial nominees to even receive an up or down vote. Liberals were tying up nominees in committee, paralyzing the judiciary and using the filibuster as a permanent way to prevent conservatives from being seated in the nation’s courts. Yet, they demanded that right on appointments, a process much simpler than passing comprehensive health care reform. Now — with health care legislation that affects nearly every American alive — is not the time to reverse course and change the Senate rules, so that not even an entire party agrees on the “change” to our nation’s health and livelihood.
Instead of subverting the rules, once again, liberals should scrap the health care bills in the House and the Senate and start over crafting a bill that can attract 60 votes in the Senate and a majority vote in the House. If there is one lesson to be learned this week, it is that Senate Democrats may be willing to change the rules to pass this bill, but if the voters reject their ideas in November, you can be sure they’ll change the rules right back. Ironically, if Ted Kennedy had never changed the rules in the first place, this whole argument would be moot. Deval Patrick would have appointed Kennedy’s successor and the 6o votes would have been secure. Yes, democracy can be so ironic.