We’ve all heard the complaint: Republicans are the “Party of No.” But the GOP’s historic number of filibusters is the only viable response to Sen. Harry Reid’s unprecedentedly authoritarian rule of the Senate. Senator Reid has blocked the minority from amending bills more than any Senate majority leader in history — and more times than the last four Senate majority leaders combined.
How does Senator Reid do this? He uses his right to be recognized first by the chair to offer just enough amendments to bills to block any further amendments. These amendments are usually meaningless, like changing a word or a date, but they effectively block the minority’s opportunity. This is a clear abuse of the spirit, if not the letter, of the Senate’s rules, and that is one reason why we have witnessed Republicans’ frequent use of the filibuster.
To understand this phenomenon, consider this analogy: I am Senator Reid and you are Senator McConnell. We want to build a house together. I will put in 60 percent of the money and you will contribute 40 percent. Since I have majority ownership, it’s only fair that I have more say over the design, but you should have a say in some parts of the house, at least.
But what if I choose everything that goes into the house without regard to your wishes? You will have a small, dark basement bedroom and I will have a spacious and sunny master suite. The house will be painted a color you hate. Despite your repeated entreaties to have some input into the house’s design, I am prepared to ignore your wishes and build the house exactly as I like it.
You have only two choices: accept the house I design, or withhold your money and refuse to build the house with me. Wisely, Senator McConnell and his Republican colleagues have withheld their money.
This week, Sen. Susan Collins, a moderate Republican from Maine who is accustomed to working across party lines, signaled that she could vote for cloture on the Defense Authorization bill if Senator Reid would just permit Senate Republicans the opportunity to offer 15 amendments to the bill and four days to debate it — a reasonable request, especially since historically debates on the massive defense bill last two to three weeks and involve scores of amendments.
Reid refused. He knew that, given the opportunity, some Republican amendments would pass. Rather than risk letting the minority make changes to the bill, he presented to Republicans a take-it-or-leave deal. By a vote of 57 to 40, cloture failed.
Consider that the defense bill held two key Democrat priorities: taxpayer funding of abortions on military bases and repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Also consider that Congress has never failed to pass a Defense Authorization for the last 48 years.
But no matter. It was Reid’s way or the highway. In response, Minority Leader McConnell and his team refused to supply the few votes needed to get to 60.
The media and liberal pundits are screaming about Republican obstructionism. Yet they ignore the fact that this is the only viable response to Democrats’ autocratic and ahistoric governance of what was once the world’s most deliberative body.
With 47 Republicans in next year’s Senate, Reid will again have to choose: govern or grandstand. If he chooses the latter, Republicans will rightly stymie his plans, gridlock will continue, and Republicans can expect to make more electoral gains in 2012.
But Reid is contemplating a third option: change the Senate rules to water down or eliminate the filibuster. This would be a short-term solution that would be to the long-term detriment of the nation. Sen. Chris Dodd, the outgoing liberal Democrat, eloquently argued this point in his farewell speech on the Senate floor on November 30, 2010:
The history of this young democracy, the Framers decided, should not be written solely in the hand of the political majority. In a nation founded in revolution against tyrannical rule, which sought to crush dissent, there should be one institution that would always provide a space where dissent was valued and respected. . . . Our Founders were concerned not only with what was legislated, but, just as importantly, with how we legislated.
If Senator Reid wants to pass legislation, he can changes his ways and let the Senate be the Senate, providing an open and fair debate. Or he can stay the course, refusing to let the minority have a voice, and see gridlock ensue. The choice is Reid’s.
— Bill Wichterman is a former special assistant to Pres. George W. Bush and former policy adviser to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist.