OpEd

Story published: 12-03-2013 • Print ArticleE-mail Story to a Friend

Eliminating filibuster defied founders


Jefferson visited Washington and asked why the Convention delegates had created a Senate. “Why did you pour that tea into your saucer?” asked Washington. “To cool it,” said Jefferson. “Even so,” responded Washington, “we pour legislation into the senatorial saucer to cool it.”

The Senate, founded as a representative of the state governing bodies, had its members selected by the governor and legislature of each state.

In the same way the House represented the people, the Senate represented the interests of state governments, ensuring the power and rights of the states were protected from the federal government.

Representing the state governments, the Senate was given highly important responsibilities in addition to deliberating bills, that included reviewing treaties, which could supersede the Constitution, and approving judges, who would be appointed to a lifetime post.

In 1913, the 17th Amendment changed the senatorial selection process to a direct election. This was pushed by the progressive movement, in order to “end corruption in state legislatures...and make senators directly answerable to the people for their actions and decisions”.

This departure from the founder’s design morphed the Senate into a second House of Representatives, only with a longer term. No longer were the interests or knowledge of the state governments of primary importance to either body. Unfunded mandates, land grabs of oil rich land as “national parks”, excessive regulations, etc. resulted.

Early on, the Senate developed rules consistent with its responsibility which, among other things, required a 60-vote majority to approve a measure or appointment. This check set the high mark necessary to ensure full scrutiny of candidates, treaties, and legislation, normally by both parties.

Berated by both parties when in power, the temptation to eliminate this rule has been thwarted for 200 years until this session of Congress. The impetus that carried this desire into action was a new group of Democratic senators who have decided that the United States needs more government.

Unable to persuade a 60-vote bipartisan majority, Democrats unilaterally decided to change the rules to a 51-vote majority, allowing them to pass issues unilaterally.

Represented as needed for approving judicial appointments, it is clear that gun control, climate change, and expansion of government are key priorities of those senators pressing for this change.

This slippery slope was the fear of Sen. Carl Levin, who stated, “Before we discard the uniqueness of this great institution, let us use the current rules and precedents of the Senate to end the abuse of the filibuster.” It has also been vehemently opposed by former senators Kennedy, Byrd, Kerry, Obama, and Biden.

Senator Dianne Feinstein stated, “You’ve got to make the change, or this becomes a body that doesn’t mutate.”

Mutate? Losing the original nature of something? Changing the form or nature of the Senate? The country? That’s the goal?

Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts, absolutely. We are rapidly moving away from the Constitution and some are beginning to realize how much we are paying for it.   The saucer is cracked.