Don’t abolish the filibuster

Charles Krauthammer urges Republicans to abolish the filibuster. He is prompted to advocate this fundamental change for a very narrow purpose — to pass a piece of legislation he expects President Obama to veto.

But Krauthammer isn’t talking about an ordinary piece of legislation. He has in mind a bill that would fund the Department of Homeland Security, minus the immigration service which would be denied funds to implement the president’s executive amnesty. The House has passed such legislation, but Senate Democrats are blocking it via the filibuster.

If the filibuster were eliminated, Senate Democrats could no longer block the funding measure. Obama could still veto it, and probably would. But then, according to Krauthammer, he would be blamed for not funding DHS, whereas currently congressional Republicans are taking the heat. (Similarly, Obama could be blamed for vetoing other politically popular legislation Republicans pass in 2015 and 2016).

In terms of reality, as opposed to perception, Krauthammer’s gambit would accomplish virtually nothing. As things stand, Senate Democrats are, in effect, vetoing the DHS funding bill. Minus the filibuster, Obama, who won’t face the voters again, would be exercise that veto.

In terms of perception, however, Obama’s veto would have to be executed in the open, for all to see. Currently, the Senate Democrats’ “veto” is shrouded in procedure. This makes it easier for the media to pin blame on the GOP.

But if the battle over the funding bill is going to be the game-changer Democrats hope for, the Dems will have to maintain the fiction that they were innocent bystanders to a train wreck (and that there has, in fact, been a train wreck) for a year and half. Republicans shouldn’t find it terribly difficult to fight such an obviously false narrative to a draw during an election season — assuming anyone is still worried about the issue by then.

Republicans took a big hit over the partial government shutdown of 2013. A year later, the GOP romped to victory in congressional elections.

For me, then, the question is whether our fundamental procedure for enacting legislation should be changed for the purpose not of enacting law, but rather of manufacturing political talking points.

I say no.

Fairness requires me to admit, however, that the disadvantage of eliminating the filibuster may be more theoretical than real. In theory, the legislative filibuster is an excellent, and arguably indispensable, instrument of true conservatism. It helps protect the country from radical change imposed by a party that happens temporarily to obtain narrow margins in Congress, coupled with the presidency. It also helps protect against unpredictably, by guarding against radical swings in the law — e.g., passage followed by repeal followed by passage.

We saw this work in practice during 2009 and 2010. Without the filibuster, Democrats could have enacted virtually any law the left-wing base desired. As it was, most of the leftist agenda wasn’t passed. Only a legislative fluke enabled Obamacare to become law.

Unfortunately, Krauthammer may well be correct in arguing that Democrats are likely to abolish the legislative filibuster the next time it suits their purposes. They were willing last year to abolish the filibuster for purposes of confirming judges who will uphold leftist legislation, so why wouldn’t they abolish the filibuster for purposes of enacting such legislation going forward?

The answer is that the Dems very well might abolish the filibuster if they gain control of both chambers of Congress and White House. And, accordingly, perhaps Republicans should also do so under these conditions, when the ability to change the course of the country is at stake.

Although the debate over the DHS funding bill preoccupies Washington at the moment, the stakes are much, much lower now.

Responses