Of Health Care Reform, And Majority Votes

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on December 23, 2009


The question at the Politico’s Arena concerned whether the filibuster should be maintained as an institution. I have written in the past that I want the filibuster eliminated for personnel appointments, but that it should be maintained in dealing with legislation. My comments are here, and are reproduced as follows:

The filibuster is certainly good for our Constitutional system; the House of Representatives is supposed to reflect populist passions, and the Senate is supposed to ensure that those passions do not get out of hand. One recalls the conversation between Washington and Jefferson, which I have noted before; when the latter asked Washington what the Senate was for, Washington responded by asking why Jefferson poured his tea in a saucer. “To cool it,” Jefferson replied. Washington then noted that this was precisely what the Senate was supposed to do with popular/populist legislation–cool excess passions before they get out of hand.

Gene Healy’s column on why Senate obstructionism is a good thing is very much worth reading–especially worth reading is his comment that while current opportunistic opponents of the filibuster like to point out that there is nothing in the Constitution that allows a filibuster, there is also nothing in the Constitution that authorizes the current push for health care reform that would mandate us to purchase insurance. It should be noted as well that while the Constitution does not mention filibusters one way or the other, it does allow the House and Senate to set their own rules, which means that there is nothing unconstitutional or extra-constitutional about the filibuster. I know that the current opportunistic opponents of the filibuster–almost all of whom are Democrats–also like to point out that they didn’t oppose filibusters back when George W. Bush was President, because Democrats did not force as many cloture votes back then. But there is no doubt that if the Democrats did force more cloture votes, those same current opportunistic opponents of the filibuster would have had no problem whatsoever supporting Democratic filibusters. They certainly had no objection to those filibusters when Democrats were ensuring that Bush nominations to appellate courts could not receive a Senate vote, after all.

I suppose that I could have added that those who oppose the supermajority requirement when it comes to the filibuster, seem to have no problem whatsoever supporting it when it comes to other matters. These entrenchment provisions can be repealed via majority vote by a future Congress, but that really does not negate the hypocrisy of those who favor certain supermajority requirements simply because those particular requirements help buttress their particular political cause.

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