Chris Dodd appears determined to prove his critics right: he has been in Washington way too long. As his final act as a Senator, he has chosen to lead the charge among Democrats to assure the survival of the filibuster and the continued dominance of the Republican party, no matter who is in the minority. Yesterday he met with freshman Senators who are a bit fed up with this little bit of Senatorial privilege and tried to set them straight:
“I made a case last night to about ten freshman senators, you know, you want to turn this into a unicameral body? What’s the point of having a Senate? If the vote margins are the same as in the House, you might as well close the doors,” Dodd told reporters in the Capitol.
The Senate has served as a counterpoise to the House since the beginning of the Republic. It was designed that way by the Founders, who clearly envisioned that the “vote margins [would be] the same as in the House”. Longer terms, larger constituencies and a smaller body all operate to make the Senate a far different institution than the House.
For all but a sliver of the time since the Republic’s founding, the Senate has operated on the majority vote principal, the filibuster being more or less relegated to a tool used by Southerners to deprive blacks of their constitutional rights, and to preserve sacred American traditions like lynching. Somehow the Republic survived (though not some of the black victims of this sacred institution), and the Senate thrived, despite the fact that the norm was that only a majority was required to pass a bill and filibusters were rare. Yes, even the bigots of the past, who at least were up-front about their bigotry, were more restrained than the Republicans of today.
There are 49 bicameral state legislatures in this country, and the states have managed to survive, despite the fact that “the vote margins are the same” in both houses, although we must caveat by pointing out that California has effectively destroyed itself by enacting a super majority requirement to pass budgets, effectively holding itself hostage to a determined minority, driving itself into bankruptcy in the process.
There are, in addition,many ways in which you can assure the minority plenty of time to debate while still requiring that at some point, it end. But Chris, apparently, thinks it’s important that McConnell and his ilk be able to stop anything, the unemployed, uninsured, and uneducated be damned.
This type of stuff from Chris would not be so infuriating if there were examples of any substantial good the filibuster has ever done when the Democrats were in the minority. The Republicans demand up or down votes and the Democrats cave. In any event, the filibuster is an inherently anti-progressive institution, and at the present it is positively reactionary. It’s purpose is to stop things from getting done, and its continued existence guarantees that this country will move ever rightward, no matter what the people want.
I hate to say it, but so far as Dodd is concerned, good riddance.
UPDATE: A commenter suggests that a rule change now could help the Republicans if they win in November. That’s true, except for procedural reasons, the Democrats can’t change the rules until the new session. If they are in the minority, they can’t do it, nor can they stop the Republicans from changing them, as, at that point, rule changes can not be filibustered. The Republicans are unlikely to change them, should they take over, because with a Democrat in office they will not be particularly interested in actually trying to pass anything. They will spend two years investigating Obama, everyone will get disgusted with them, and he’ll be re-elected in 2012 and the Senate will go back to the Democrats. But that’s not going to happen because the Republicans are not going to take over. Were the present situation reversed, you can bet the Republicans would be threatening to abolish the filibuster right now, in order to make Democrats stop using it. We know that’s true, because it’s exactly what they tried to do when they were in the majority with a Republican president, and they intended to do it by breaking the rules. Of course, the Democrats cowered, they always do, so the Republicans did not have to follow through on their threat, so the (in this case, judicial) filibuster survived so they could use it against Obama’s appointees.