The main reason that the mainstream media is talking about the Senate changing the rules on the practice of filibuster is due to their being too lazy to explain what the Senate really did and actually educate the people who might not be as up on their United States Constitution as used to be the norm earlier in American history. The Senate changed the rules on cloture which is the means by which a filibuster is ended, not prevented or even stopped dead but ended with a possibility of allowing limited debate time to each Senator if the rules so permit. So, let us take a short trip back through history, and I promise to try to be brief. When the Constitution was ratified and became the founding document for the governance of the United States in 1789 there were no rules limiting debate in any manner. Senators could talk on any legislation pending before that august body until the cows came home and beyond. That was the beauty of the Constitution and the original interpretation of the idea that the House of Representatives was a rough and tumble and coarser body while the Senate was proper and deliberative with cordial rules and mutual respect, a far cry from what we have today and even originally. Do not for one second believe that American politicking has become raucous and vile only in the recent past as it actually has become more sensitive and polite. Nobody is referring to the other candidate for President of being a hermaphrodite or of being the son of a half-breed Indian squaw. To quote the two gentlemen in question behind those remarks, and they are to this day considered gentlemen though I doubt the shorter of the two would have agreed with such a description when he was alive; the Jefferson campaign described President Adams as a “hideous hermaphroditical character, which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman,” and Adams in return defined Vice President Jefferson as “a mean-spirited, low-lived fellow, the son of a half-breed Indian squaw, sired by a Virginia mulatto father.” Yes, believe it or not these were the President and Vice President of the United States at that time as originally the candidate with the most votes became President and the candidate who came in second became the Vice President but we obviously changed that as it became a tad unworkable and obviously so. The Twelfth Amendment in 1804 put this problem to rest allowing for separate ballots for President and Vice President but did not dictate that the two office holders be from the same party, it is still possible though unlikely that the President and Vice President could come from different parties.
Back to the “nuclear option” voted on by the Senate this past week. The Senate rules call for a simple majority vote with limited debate for any motion to alter, add or deduct from the rules under which the Senate operates thus making any chance for a filibuster basically mute. Because of that the Democrats with their four seat advantage won the passage of the new rules by a 52-48 vote. President Obama took the opportunity to continue his war against the minority Republicans in the Senate in a short speech after which he delegated a person to answer any questions in what has become a normal routine of never allowing the President to be questioned by the press directly or be allowed to ever go off of the carefully scripted words on his teleprompter. Sometimes I think that it would be both revealing and educational allowing for the truthful revelation of the character and inner feelings of a President if it were required that he take a session answering press questions at least once each month and could be required when asked to appear before either branch of Congress to answer questions on any legislation brought to the floor by request of the White House or any member of the President’ own party. Any additional information that is revealed concerning a President’s inner feelings, ability to think quickly and respond to unexpected queries and situations as well as anything that fills the people with additional truths about the person supposedly running the nation and being the face of the American people and the nation on the world’s stage should be encouraged, even mandated. The Senate changing the rules such that a cloture vote which restricts virtually ending debate on appointment for judgeships and other posts to a simple majority has basically changed the process into simply the Senate being a rubber stamp for all but the absolute worst nominations, and even then it might be questionable if the Democrats would not simply bow before the President’s will. This may prove to be catastrophic or it may simply end up as a tempest in a teapot, it all depends on which appointments now gain affirmation who might have been prevented by a Republican or a single Democrat deciding to filibuster the nomination. This I just one more time will tell and I have found that time usually tells long after anybody is paying attention. A perfect example, except that people are paying attention, is Kathleen Sebelius and the catastrophic rollout of Obamacare. Had that gone relatively smoothly with only minor glitches we would have never known how vacuous that woman is and how Health and Human Services is being directed by an incompetent who appears incapable of managing a major project any better than a junior project manager in training.
There will be some commentators and political talking heads who will go off the deep end and erroneously relate that this move by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was unconstitutional and that the Constitution enumerates the right and procedures known as the filibuster and cloture vote. They are mistaken at best and intentionally misleading at worst. The truth is that the Constitution says absolutely nothing about either process by name. Under the Constitution the original Senate had absolutely no limit on the length of the debate thus allowing every Senator and thus every State to have ample time to discuss and debate the merits of legislation and even return home to get their marching orders from the State Legislatures which chose the Senators. The Senate under Article I, Section 5, Clause 3 was empowered to write its own rules concerning debate and the procedures which govern the same. The Senate adopted its first anti-filibuster rule in 1917 calling such a procedure cloture. Traditionally the cloture vote has taken some form of supermajority in order to shut down debate. The rules of the Senate, according to the writings of the Founders, was to be a more deliberative body which fully debated legislation thus allowing the Senate to reject any legislations which was passed under emotional or other reaction to momentary events and to represent the individual States within the Federal Government such that the States would be protected from the rapacious appetite for power and dominion by any Congress or President. It is interesting that the initial limitation to debate came in 1917, four years after the ratification of one of the most destructive laws to ever make its way onto the books, let alone the Constitution, the Amendment XVII which forever changed the Congress and permitted the unrestrained expansion of the powers, reach, and oppressive abilities of the Federal Government. Under this amendment the States no longer appointed their own Senators in any manner they saw fit, be it appointed by the Governor, appointed by the Governor and ratified by some branch of the State Legislature, appointed directly by the State Legislature or even directly elected by the people which any State could have enacted as their method had they so chosen. This was a direct assault on the rights of the States and took place under a wave of humanist excitement where it was believed that the people, if allowed to voice their combined will, would reach a more reasoned and duly proper decision than any that could be reached by the corrupt and despicable State Governances. The members of the Federal Government even back then looked upon the State Governments, from which many of them had originally served, with contempt and disdain. They saw them as incapable of reasoned thought or honest debate. Looking at the Congress of today one might come to the conclusion that a monarchy might be preferable, but surely I jest. It is likely certain that had the Senate remained as intended a product of the individual State Governments deciding their selection process that the vast majority of States would have decided to allow for the direct election of their Senators in the Federal Government anyways, so there is probably little difference today that if the Amendment XVII were never passed or ratified. One note on history, both the Amendment XVII and the Amendment XVI, which enacted the income tax, have both had claims made that they were not truly ratified by the necessary States within the time limited by the Constitution and are therefore not enforceable. Thus far nobody has won a court case challenging either Amendment. Given my personal choice, I would prefer ridding the United States of the Amendment XVII as returning a greater amount of limiting force by the individual States would do more to limit and turn back the growth of the Federal Government than anything else I have ever heard promoted. The one item that would cease to exist immediately would be the imposition of unfunded mandates on the individual States by Federal legislation as that has become a nasty and not all that uncommon way that the Federal Government passes legislation while forcing the States to finance the implementation and continue maintenance of the legislation and not burdening the Federal budget with such costs. Imagine a Federal Government which was forced to pay for every consequence of their legislative agendas. They would soon go on a legislative diet which the press would label gridlock and the Representatives and Senators would label sticker shock from seeing the financial consequences of all of their actions and being unable to pass the costs off on the States. That was an imagine that Mr. John Lennon missed in his song, but being British I guess he should be forgiven.
Beyond the Cusp