“Mommy, Billy hit me!” How many times have you heard this from your kids? Sometimes it’s true, and sometimes it’s a way to get Billy punished for something Johnny did. But how many times is it simply an excuse for Johnny to not stand up for himself?
“We have to have sixty votes to do anything in the Senate.” Bull***t! You need fifty-one votes. Period. Anything else is an excuse not to do anything.
“Poor me. I’m powerless.” – Mitch McConnell, Senate Majority Leader[*]
“You can’t pass anything in the Senate without sixty votes.” – Mitch McConnell, Senate Majority Leader[†]
During the Obama years, Republicans campaigned on the promise that “If we control the Senate and the House, we’ll pass conservative laws to rein in a lawless Obama administration.” But after each election Senate Majority Leader McConnell said that that it was almost impossible to get anything done because the Democrats blocked every meaningful action in the Senate. With Donald Trump in the White House, it seems nothing has changed.
Does that really mean that we have to elect the very rare filibuster-proof majority to slay the governmental leviathan that has been built over the last century?
Let’s pause for a history lesson. Filibusters go all the way back to – well – too far to remember. Basically, if one group didn’t like the legislation being considered, they talked… and talked… and talked. If the other side wanted to get things done, they had to convince their opponents to stop talking. There weren’t any rules that would allow them to shut the conversation down.
It wasn’t until 1917 that Senate rules for ending debate were even adopted. Over time, the required number of votes to end debate and allow a vote were decreased to the current sixty. But the fundamental concept was that the minority would be allowed to talk and talk. If they were sufficiently determined to kill a bill by talking it to death, then the majority would take them seriously. And in fact, some bills were talked to death. Other times, the majority decided that enough was enough, and voted to end debate.
Now a hyperpolarized Democratic Party has intervened. Little Mitchie McConnell is complaining that Chucky Schumer has taken his lollipop and thrown into the schoolyard mud. But he doesn’t want you to think that he’s just pouting. He wants you to think that Democrats have the absolute power to block anything that doesn’t have 60 votes. But that’s a lie. Mitch has a weapon he has refused to use. It’s called sunlight.
At almost every turn, Harry Reid declared that the Democrats would filibuster Republican proposals. There wouldn’t be a vote against the Iran nuclear deal. Planned Parenthood would get its money. Keystone Pipeline wouldn’t be voted on so President Obama wouldn’t have to veto it. We could go on and on. “The World’s Greatest Deliberative Body” ceased to deliberate. And we didn’t hear a word of it in the mainstream media. Instead, we were told that the Republicans were “obstructionists.” Chucky Schumer’s “Resistance” has put Reid’s plan on steroids.
The trick that allowed these “filibusters” to succeed “behind the curtain” was created by Senators Mike Mansfield and Robert Bird after filibusters of civil rights legislation in the early 1960s. In essence, when the Minority Leader tells the Majority Leader that a filibuster is intended, the Majority Leader places the “filibustered” action on a double-secret calendar where it never sees the light of day. Under this custom, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has allowed the Senate to be “filibustered,” blocking action on bills the Democrats don’t like, simply allowing Democrats to have their way.
In theory, this double-secret “filibuster” is designed to allow the Senate to operative efficiently to tackle the supposed “immense legislative load” it faces. But the proper term for this is “pre-emptive surrender.” Senator McConnell has declared that he will not fight. But he does not need to fight. All he needs to do is to make the Democrats fight.
Imagine this spectacle: Chucky Schumer declares that the Republicans are being obstructionist because they won’t play by Chucky’s rules and fund his favorite Lefty causes. Wait a minute! Isn’t that what he actually did by refusing to meet with the President? We have the empty chair photos to prove it. But the New York Slimes – er – Times parrots Chucky’s claim. Who are we to believe? If Mitch will man up, there’s a way to prove to everyone that Chucky is the bad guy.
Yes, the Republicans can follow Trump’s lead on Twitter. But the low information crowd won’t hear it because they don’t follow anything from the Right except the Lame Stream Media’s latest quote of who Trump is “slandering” on Twitter. So that isn’t the solution. But almost everyone watches some sort of TV, and even catches a bit of news. So, if Mitch will pay attention, he has a beautiful big door of opportunity.
A “government shutdown” is looming. So Republicans put together the proper legislation to keep the doors open – even if most of us might prefer that they close and stay closed. McConnell brings it to the Senate floor. Lots of discussion follows, and the deadline is a day away. Mitch calls for a vote and Chucky declares a filibuster, thinking he’s won the publicity war.
If, at that dark moment, Mitch hands Chucky the microphone and says, “Start talking,” Chucky has just landed between a rock and a hard place. Can you spell “deer in headlights?” With twenty-four hours before non-essential checks stop going out, Chucky has two choices, neither of them good for him. He can shut up and let the Republican bill come to a vote, or he can filibuster. If he shuts up, the Republicans get credit for keeping the government open. If he filibusters, C-SPAN, Fox, and CNN cover him wall-to-wall under bright lights as he and his cronies blather in the well of the Senate.
The hands on the clock move closer and closer to midnight when the checks will stop. If Chucky bails on the filibuster, he’s screwed. He shows the whole world that he’s a toothless vampire. If he keeps going, he’s the Grinch who stole the National Parks. He has no good options. His caucus might even begin to question his leadership. Perhaps they would even consider picking another true-blue American to lead them like Pocohontas Warren.
There’s a term for this: optics. The Democrats have been the masters of political theater for decades. And they’ve cowed the Republicans into submission by toothless threats. We the people don’t care if the government shuts down for a while. That keeps it out of our way for a few days.
Republicans have been afraid of their own shadows. Their very existence has the legacy media in full scream. What a delicious irony it would be if the very threat that has kept the Republicans from acting turns into the action that destroys any credibility remaining with the Democrats. And just think. It won’t take any new law or Senate rule to do it. It simply takes the will to act.
On occasion Senator McConnell can actually act. He proved it with the rules change that led to Justice Gorsuch being seated on the Supreme Court. If he wants to stay Majority Leader in two years, this is the easiest way to do it. And it will lead to a massive increase in the Republican majority next year. What’s not to like?