As you probably well know, the Left has taken it upon themselves to latch on to a strange obsession in 2011 aimed at curtailing the deliberative legislative process. Ideas about filibuster reform have been vague, but it is clear that the Democrats would very much like to reduce the Senate to a majority-rules body equivalent to the House. While this desire has not been expressly stated, it has been tip-toed around for several weeks now with no small amount of political posturing.
If you have listened to any of the typical oblivious punditry in the mass media over the past few weeks, you have likely discerned the talking points on both sides of the issue. In the case of the Democrats, their biggest complaint is the historically frequent use of the filibuster this past year to “curtail” left-wing legislation. Never mind the fact that the 111th Congress was one of the most “productive in history.” After the Left stuffed their face with mountains of regulation and several multi-thousand page bills, which “needed to be passed so we could see what is in them,” they now have one primary complaint: it was just too damn hard…
The ridiculous nature of the Left’s complaint about the filibuster is the most obvious of the factors at play here, but the less covered aspect of this situation is the subject of a Washington Post op-ed piece written by Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. While the media has covered the Republicans’ frequent use of the filibuster ad nausea as a means to support reform, what they have failed to mention is a similar legislative gimmick used equally as much by the Left. So, while it may be true that Republicans have used the filibuster more than any other Senate in history–so what? Get over it…–one of the main reasons for this process has been the Left’s use of what is called “filling the amendment tree”:
All of this is newly relevant because some on the left are agitating once again for partisan rule changes aimed at empowering the majority at the expense of the minority. They have peddled the well-worn myth that changes are needed as a way of overcoming partisanship on the part of Republicans. Their evidence: a historically high number of so-called cloture petitions by the Democratic majority to cut off debate. Republicans forced these petitions, Democrats say, by blocking or slow-walking bills.
What these critics routinely fail to mention (and too many reporters fail to report) is the precipitating action: the Democratic majority’s repeated use of a once-rare procedural gimmick that has kept Republicans from amending bills that are brought to the floor. This practice, known as “filling the amendment tree,” leads to a question that answers itself: Why would Republicans vote for action on a bill that, we’ve been promised, we’ll be blocked from contributing to in any way? If the majority wants more cooperation, it could start by allowing differing views to be heard.
Over the past four years, Democrats have used such gimmicks to pursue their most prized legislative goals while attempting to minimize the number of uncomfortable votes they’ve had to take. My Democratic counterpart in the Senate, Harry Reid, has played quarterback, setting records for the number of times he has blocked Republicans from having any input on bills, cut off our right to debate and bypassed the committee process in order to write bills behind closed doors.
This partisan approach is the main reason Republicans have stuck together over the past few years. In the best traditions of the Senate, we have insisted that the views of those we represent not be ignored. The November election suggested that voters appreciated our stand against partisanship. Yet rather than change their ways in the face of that election, Democrats are now looking for a way to essentially nullify its results.
So, if we’re going to make the discussion about reforming Senate rules over partisanship, the first step is for Democrats to look themselves in the mirror and see the problem. It’s very easy for the Left to perpetuate the myth that Republicans are the party of “no” by engaging in inaccurate and deceitful conversations about unnecessary reforms. The reason that the filibuster has been used with such increasing regularity is quite simply because of the partisanship of the Democrats. That is not to say that such tactics are not within their rights as Senators….far from it. They have every right to resort to hyper-partisan legislative techniques while in the majority, but the GOP has every right to counter that partisanship with their only form of defense: the filibuster. So, while the Democrats are not technically wrong in pursuing legislation in an ultra-partisan manner– though they are wrong morally for abusing their power– they are undoubtedly wrong in shaping a false conversation about filibuster reform that paints the GOP as historically obstructionist. Any conversation about the obstruction of ideas needs to originate with the Left for initiating a process that allows for zero input from the minority party. Don’t expect to see that narrative in the news tomorrow– or ever– but for what it’s worth these days, that’s the truth.