THE SANTA CLARA
November 7, 2013
It’s time to shake things up in a house of Congress.
In the wake of the Republican Party’s recent blocking of two potential nominees of President Barack Obama for federal courts and the Federal Housing Finance Agency, some Senate Democrats are talking about the “nuclear option,” or the use of the Democrats’ 51-vote majority to eliminate the filibuster entirely and allow the Senate to pass any bill with a simple majority.
Where have they been for the past seven years?
Ever since the Democrats won a majority in the Senate, Republicans have been using the filibuster to obstruct meaningful legislation.
When the Senate Democrats tried to pass a bill aiming to withdraw American troops from Iraq in 2007, the Republican minority killed it with a filibuster.
The Republicans used the threat of a filibuster to force Obama to limit the size of the economic stimulus bill and strike the public option from the health care reform act.
When Obama tried to pass the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010, Republican Senator Scott Brown from Massachusetts, agreed to join the Democrats in ending the Republican-led filibuster only after he obtained exemptions for banks in Massachusetts that contributed to his campaign.
The lesson of the past seven years is not that the Republicans are evil, but that the Democrats should have abolished the filibuster on the day they got a majority.
They would no longer be able to use Republican obstructionism as an excuse for their own failures and inaction. Robbed of their favorite scapegoat, the Democrats would have been forced to support and implement progressive legislation, such as single-payer health care and a stimulus bill big enough to end unemployment.
This would likely lead to the public rejecting the fake progressivism of the Democratic Party and building a real electoral alternative. Less likely, but possible, the Democrats would actually pass progressive legislation in order to win more votes and support.
The most common argument against abolishing the filibuster is that it deprives the minority of their rights. This argument does not hold up because the U.S. Constitution never mentioned the filibuster as a means of protecting political minorities. The Senate was created with few rules outlined in the U.S. Constitution and rules are made informally by party leaders.
Supporters of the filibuster also neglect to mention that the U.S. Supreme Court has the ability to overturn unconstitutional laws regardless of Senate procedures.
A second argument is that abolishing the filibuster will set a precedent Republicans will use when they take back the Senate. This argument ignores the fact that the Democrats had a majority in the Senate for 28 straight years, from 1952 to 1980. If the Democrats truly believe in passing progressive legislation, then they should be confident that such legislation will win them support from the majority of voters, as the New Deal did for the Democrats.
If the Democratic Party were to pass a universal health care bill, a full employment bill and guaranteed paid employee leave (all of which are supported by the majority of Americans), the voting public would handsomely reward them for a long time, and the Republicans would have no chance of taking back the Senate.
When Obama took office, today’s Republican Party, which can only be described as psychotic, implicitly vowed to make him a one-term president. Although they failed to do so, they succeeded at conducting a record-high number of filibusters and helped provide the Democrats with an excuse to not pursue progressive legislation.
The Democrats are only now talking about getting rid of the filibuster. They should have to explain to the millions of Americans without health insurance, the workers who take leave unpaid and all those without jobs where they have been all this time.
Moshe Wander is an undeclared freshman.