Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., has made the case that the Senate filibuster should be preserved. The freshman senator told The Daily Signal:
Senators from both parties should be deeply skeptical of any changes that centralize power. The Senate’s filibuster is designed not for obstruction, but genuine debate. Ending the filibuster for small wins today will lead to huge defeats in the future. Rather than abandon the rules, we ought to embrace the Founder’s vision of serious debate as a bulwark against unlimited government.
He’s right. If Republicans want to retain any long-term hope of blocking progressive goals, the filibuster must be preserved.
In a recent piece for the Wall Street Journal, Sasse hearkens back to three historical moments when Democrats were able to act without impediment from their Republican colleagues—a similar situation to what Republicans might one day find themselves if the filibuster is eliminated.
What did that get us? The government takeover of the New Deal, the mandates of the Great Society, and, most recently, Obamacare.
“What did that get us? The government takeover of the New Deal, the mandates of the Great Society, and, most recently, Obamacare.”
Sasse is not overstating his claims and is right to summon historical precedent as a pause on the action that the Senate now contemplates. For centuries, the filibuster has acted as a bulwark against collective action by one party—I cite a few examples here, but the list could go farther.
For conservatives, this is an essential tool to check the growth of government and to ensure their right to participate in the debate. As Sasse rightly notes, “conservatives should understand that deliberative debate exists to protect the Constitution and preserve the nation’s fundamentally conservative principles.”
The filibuster was and is intended to be a necessary check on the majoritarian influences of the House of Representatives. Passing legislation is hard. That is the way it was envisioned. Of the Senate, James Madison wrote that it should “consist in its proceedings with more coolness, more system, with more wisdom.” The filibuster forces this coolness into the legislative debate. It forces each side to find consensus before the body can move forward. And, most importantly, it ensures that the voices of the even the smallest minorities are heard and acted upon.
Instead of calling for hasty action to undo the filibuster, conservatives should be wary of the unforeseen consequences.
As I noted earlier this week, the McConnell-Reid era of the Senate has seen an unprecedented level of control exerted from the leader’s office that has stifled the rights of senators to participate in the legislative process. More often than not, this heavy-handedness has been directed toward conservatives.
In an era where the Senate leadership is acting with more aggression toward conservative senators, conservatives should be loath to support a proposal that gives the Office of the Majority Leader even more authority.
Rather, conservatives should be calling for a return to an open process that prioritizes transparency in deliberation and negotiation. Senators who are committed to the fight should be allowed to fight—and the filibuster is a right granted to them by the Senate rules to do just that.
To eliminate it would not only result in stifling debate and significantly hampering the ability of conservatives to influence the outcome of legislation, but disrupt the equality of the Senate, which allows conservatives to be heard.
Sasse says eliminating the filibuster is akin to “playing with fire.” If conservatives want to have any say in what happens to them in Washington, they must resist attempts to undermine their voices in the Senate. Maintaining the filibuster is crucial to that effort.