The rules matter.
On Friday and Saturday of last week, President Donald Trump took to Twitter to voice his desire to alter the long standing Senate rules requiring 60 votes to pass legislation through that chamber. Below are the specific tweets referenced:
If you are an ardent supporter of Trump and his agenda, on its face this looks like a brilliant move. It would give the administration and the Republican Party the ability to pass virtually every major piece of legislation (the notable exception being Obamacare repeal) with ease, and at an historic pace. However tempting the visions of success may be, I cannot underscore how detrimental this rules change would be to the institution of the Senate itself.
Requiring 60 votes may seem like a random number and contrary to our ideas of democracy — which is usually seen as 50 plus 1 — but it is in no way an accident. The Senate was intentionally designed to foster compromise and moderation in its legislation. With a 60 vote threshold in place, Democrats and Republicans are required to find common ground on our most pressing issues. This environment of compromise prevents radical pieces of legislation, spearheaded by either party, from being rammed through.
In a world of a simple majority threshold, the minority in the Senate is essentially neutered, paralyzed from doing anything of significance for those who voted for them. In the current situation, Democrats in the Senate might as well pack their bags and head home because they would have little ability to accomplish anything. To Republicans, the idea of a Democrat exodus from Washington sounds heavenly. But I encourage Republicans to proceed with caution. Eventually, maybe sooner than we all would like, the pendulum will swing back to the Left placing control of the Senate back in the hands of the Democrats. When this day comes, which is inevitable, we will all regret supporting a rule change that would then work against us. Republicans would have no right to complain.
If you think partisanship is a problem now, this proposal from Trump and others on the Right would exponentially raise the level of ugly rancor in this country. While this debate is just now gaining legs, it is important to understand that it’s not a far fetched concept that this could actually happen. Just a few months ago, Republicans changed the confirmation rules in order to place Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme Court. It was the first time in modern history that a Justice received less than 60 votes, and made his way to the bench. The rubicon has been crossed, the precedent set.
It is short sighted and naive to genuinely believe changing the Senate rules would benefit the country. Yes, at times the legislative process is going to move at a glacial pace, but we can’t let our frustration take hold of our better judgement. I trust that students of the Senate, like Mitch McConnell, will not cave to popular pressure and impulsive tweets. Hold your ground Mitch, more than what most people realize depends on your defense of the Senate rules.
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