Dis­abling Se­nate fil­i­buster abuse

Democrats must not ob­struct es­sen­tial pro-growth re­forms

The Washington Times Daily - - OPINION - By Lewis K. Uh­ler and Peter J. Fer­rara Lewis K. Uh­ler is founder and chair­man of the Na­tional Tax Lim­i­ta­tion Com­mit­tee and Na­tional Tax Lim­i­ta­tion Foun­da­tion (NTLF). Peter J. Fer­rara is prin­ci­pal and gen­eral coun­sel for the Radding­ton Group, and a se­nior

Vot­ers might justifiably as­sume that hav­ing now gained con­trol of Congress and the White House, Repub­li­cans have com­plete power to en­act all cam­paign prom­ises in the last elec­tion. But with­out changes to the fil­i­buster, Se­nate mi­nor­ity Democrats can still block Repub­li­can re­forms.

The grass­roots Repub­li­can voter base, how­ever, al­ready demon­strated in this year’s pres­i­den­tial pri­maries great frus­tra­tion with Repub­li­can in­ef­fec­tive­ness. That was the whole point of vot­ers choos­ing highly con­tro­ver­sial, rookie po­lit­i­cal novice Don­ald Trump as their nom­i­nee, over a dozen proven po­lit­i­cal vet­er­ans with ties to the Repub­li­can es­tab­lish­ment. This now presents a highly volatile, hugely threat­en­ing prob­lem for Repub­li­cans.

This Great Frus­tra­tion be­gan brew­ing in 2010. Af­ter two years of com­plete Obama Demo­cratic con­trol of Wash­ing­ton, vot­ers gave Repub­li­cans that year a New Deal-size, land­slide vic­tory with a gain of more than 60 seats in the House. That re­tired Nancy Pelosi as speaker, with a con­trol­ling Repub­li­can ma­jor­ity that con­tin­ues to this day.

It also pro­vided an im­me­di­ate check and bal­ance on Pres­i­dent Obama, block­ing any new Demo­cratic leg­is­la­tion. It re­sulted as well in the se­quester of 2011, which slowed fed­eral spend­ing over sev­eral years back down closer to the long-term con­sen­sus trend­line of 20 per­cent of gross do­mes­tic prod­uct. That con­sen­sus trend­line had pre­vailed for more than 60 years, from the end of World War II un­til 2009.

But the Repub­li­can House ma­jor­ity proved in­ef­fec­tive in de­fund­ing any al­ready-en­acted Obama Demo­cratic ini­tia­tives, given Mr. Obama’s pro­cliv­ity to shut down the govern­ment to de­fend what was al­ready won, and col­lab­o­ra­tion of the dom­i­nant Demo­cratic-con­trolled me­dia to blame Repub­li­cans for it. With­out co­op­er­a­tion from the still-Demo­cratic Se­nate, Repub­li­cans could not pass leg­is­la­tion un­do­ing Obama anti-growth trav­es­ties, like Oba­macare, Dodd-Frank or Mr. Obama’s reg­u­la­tory and ad­min­is­tra­tive ji­had against Amer­i­can en­ergy pro­duc­tion.

So in 2014, vot­ers gave Repub­li­cans the Se­nate. But Repub­li­cans com­plained they still could not re­verse Obama trav­es­ties with­out the White House. So now vot­ers have made Don­ald Trump pres­i­dent. In­deed, ab­sent woe­ful Repub­li­can per­for­mance in of­fice, Mr. Trump is as­sured Repub­li­can con­trol of Congress for his en­tire term, with 25 Demo­cratic se­na­tors and only eight Repub­li­cans up for re-elec­tion in 2018.

Repub­li­cans need to un­der­stand that their po­lit­i­cal base will not tol­er­ate any con­tin­ued in­ef­fec­tive­ness given these sweep­ing po­lit­i­cal vic­to­ries. In par­tic­u­lar, Repub­li­cans can­not now al­low Democrats to ob­struct es­sen­tial pro-growth re­forms, such as tax re­form, re­peal­ing and re­plac­ing Oba­macare, or re­vers­ing Obama anti-en­ergy re­stric­tions, with Demo­cratic fil­i­busters in the Se­nate. Con­tin­ued in­ef­fec­tive­ness now threat­ens the breakup of the Repub­li­can Party base with a new third party.

The Repub­li­can point man in this fight is Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell. At the start of the new ses­sion, he has the power to is­sue new Se­nate rules.

The fil­i­buster is too in­grained in Amer­i­can tra­di­tions to abol­ish it. But Mr. McCon­nell’s new rules could neuter Demo­cratic pow­ers to stymie progrowth Repub­li­can re­forms and ap­point­ments al­to­gether.

Re­cent con­gres­sional prac­tice has been to can­vass the mi­nor­ity party’s fil­i­buster in­ten­tions. If the mi­nor­ity has just 40 Se­nate votes to main­tain a fil­i­buster, then the ma­jor­ity just drops any chal­lenged mea­sure and moves on.

The new Se­nate fil­i­buster rule must end this prac­tice. It must re­quire any fil­i­buster of any mea­sure to in­volve ob­jec­tors stand­ing up and talk­ing, like in the film “Mr. Smith Goes to Wash­ing­ton,” where ac­tor Jimmy Ste­wart as Mr. Smith talked till he fainted on the Se­nate floor.

That would com­mu­ni­cate to the en­tire coun­try what Democrats are do­ing to stop pop­u­lar pro-growth Repub­li­can re­forms from even get­ting a vote. With a ma­jor­ity of Se­nate Democrats up for re-elec­tion next year, Demo­cratic ob­struc­tion­ists will not be able to main­tain such fil­i­busters.

The new rule must pro­vide that once the mi­nor­ity fil­i­buster is ex­hausted and fails, the mea­sure at is­sue goes di­rectly to a fi­nal vote.

In 2015, then-Demo­cratic Ma­jor­ity Leader Harry Reid uni­lat­er­ally ter­mi­nated fil­i­busters against ju­di­cial ap­point­ments, ex­cept for the Supreme Court. But that ter­mi­na­tion should now be ex­tended to Supreme Court ap­point­ments as well. Turn­about is fair play. Demo­cratic abuse of Supreme Court fil­i­busters be­gan 30 years ago, stop­ping ap­point­ment of ex­tremely wellqual­i­fied Judge Robert Bork. With per­haps half of Supreme Court seats up for reap­point­ment dur­ing Pres­i­dent Trump’s term, mi­nor­ity Democrats should be de­nied any such fur­ther fil­i­buster abuse. In­deed, Mr. Reid uni­lat­er­ally changed the fil­i­buster rule dur­ing the Se­nate ses­sion, rather than at the start. So pres­sure on Mr. McCon­nell to short-cir­cuit Demo­cratic fil­i­buster abuse can and should con­tinue through­out the en­tire cur­rent Se­nate ses­sion as well.

In 2015, thenDemo­cratic Ma­jor­ity Leader Harry Reid uni­lat­er­ally ter­mi­nated fil­i­busters against ju­di­cial ap­point­ments, ex­cept for the Supreme Court. But that ter­mi­na­tion should now be ex­tended to Supreme Court ap­point­ments as well.


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