What exactly is the point of the Senate? Ever think about that for a minute? Why not just have one legislative body, the House of Representatives, and have it make all legislation? Why the two different legislative bodies? I think this is a question more people need to ask themselves every now and then, the answer to which cannot probably be fully addressed in a short article, but which nonetheless apparently needs to be addressed considering our present state of affairs.
When the Democrats “pulled the trigger” on the “nuclear option”, which opened the door to doing away with the senate filibuster altogether, despite their claims to the contrary, what they really did was to further strengthen the reach and power of the federal government; something the Senate was originally designed to prevent, as opposed to the House. They didn’t stop “obstruction”. They streamlined executive power, and eviscerated the minority rights in the Senate. All anyone can do inside or outside the Senate in response to this unprecedented move is cross their fingers that the next time either party wants something bad enough that is being filibustered, that that party doesn’t do the same exact thing again.
In reality, the Democrats new rule to exclude the use of the filibuster when dealing with judicial and executive nominees only applies to that alone…until they again by fiat decide that it doesn’t. The precedent has been set. The precedent has been set to change the Senate rules with a simple majority, rather than the super-majority always needed in the past. Pandora’s Box has been opened. This is why is was appropriately called the “nuclear option”. It truly does blow up the Senate and its whole design. The essence of the Senate has been changed, even if they pretend it’s just a one time thing. Filibusters are not part of the constitution, but they have always been in operation, in one form or another since the constitutions inception, since the inception of the Senate, over 200 years ago, and for good reason.
This strengthening of executive power, alongside the diminuation of minority rights in the Senate, is no accident. It’s part of the progressive vision of consolidating power in the executive branch because of a distrust of diffused power and local self government. It’s the type of mentality that comes straight out of the movie Gladiator, where Joaquin Phoenix convinces himself he should do away with the Senate, because “you need an emperor to rule an empire”. That is the mentality of the left today. They are statists; no other way to put it. That may sound like hyperbole, but the record speaks for itself. If people don’t know that “liberals” today are generally for greater government power and intervention, particularly federal power, and that conversely, most conservatives are for limiting that power and leaving power with local self government, then they just aren’t paying attention to what is going on.
The House of Representatives, or the “people’s house”, is supposed to be the body most representative of the national population, most closely aligned with their beliefs, all elected from local districts across the country, and it still is that today. It is more representative of federal power. The Senate on the other hand was supposed to represent the states and their interests as a bulwark against federal power, not the population at large. It’s part of the broader checks and balances that the framers of the constitution created…and its been under attack by progressives for 100 years.
Those checks and balances were severely altered in 1913 with the 17th amendment, a seemingly harmless amendment pushed through by progressives aided by populist sentiment, where the election of Senators changed from the state legislature to a popular state vote. That alteration made Senators unbeholdant to the state legislature, therefore largely unbeholdant to their state, and there went the biggest check states had against expanding federal power into their jurisdiction. (I touch on exactly why this is in my post from September on Mark Levin’s book, The Liberty Amendments.)
Just look at what has happened to local self government the last 100 years as Senators have become more beholdent to lobbyists in Washington than to their own state legislatures. Now that Senators have largely been stripped of their initiative to more closely represent their states ambitions, against that of Washingtons’, now, in a day and age where executive and regulatory powers have grown exponentially over time, the minority in the Senate is also being stripped of its ability to slow down the majority. There’s an expression most of us have heard, which the framers took particular note of, namely, “the tyranny of the majority”.
On the contrary, we have a constitutional republic that defends minority rights, not a pure democracy. That sort of temperance has served us pretty well for the last few hundred years. This ability to defend the right of the minority disappears if and when the filibuster is repealed, because it has served to slow the federal government down, and require that either consensus be built from both sides of the aisle, or that one party not only have majority support, but a strong majority support. Now, just about the only way the Senate differs form the House, after you take into account the 17th amendment, and after you take away the filibuster, is its equal representation of Senators from each state (two from each state), so that big state and small state alike all receive the same representation…representation that again, thanks to the 17th amendment, is not nearly as beholdant to their states as other powerful influences, rendering even that aspect of the Senate largely moot.
So, are we just going to have two Houses soon, indistinguishable from one another, called by different names, but effectively the same, where the federal government rules supreme, with districts, I mean states? What’s the difference between the two legislative bodies anymore? As far as the Senate is concerned, it is NOTHING like the framers set it up to be. It has been slowly picked apart, piece by piece, from what it once was, and what it was for good reason.
So now, post-filibuster, if a political party has 51 Senators who walk lock step, the other 49 Senators might just as well stay home, something the framers specifically did not want to happen; something that has specifically distinguished us from other failed democracies around the world, namely, a respect for minority rights in our government. No, this is no small inconsequential rule change. It takes us further away then we already were from a true constitutional republic, where minority rights are protected, where government has to act slowly, deliberately, and with strong consensus, to one where the federal Leviathan rules the day, with zero state power, technically represented, for now, only by the majority.
One of the biggest things we could do to re-balance the powers would be to repeal the 17th amendment, and to retain the filibuster, for starters. The latter seems more possible at the moment, but even that might be an impossibility with the partisanship and lack of respect for past precedent and procedure that we also are currently experiencing. If more people today knew why the government was set up the way it is, they probably wouldn’t stand by so idly and watch with indifference as it is changed. That’s where we have to start with this deal.