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The filibuster and the supermajority

By Scott Tibbs, March 3, 2010

It's no secret that Democrats in the U.S. Senate are thinking about getting rid of the Senate rule that requires a 60-vote supermajority to stop debate in the Senate. It was only five years ago that leading Democrats, including Vice President Joe Biden and President Barack Obama, attacked Republicans for considering changing the rules to allow a simple majority. Back in 2005, Democrats bitterly complained it represented the arrogance of power.

My, how times have changed. This isn't a complete surprise. The Democrats have been unable to pass health care "reform" despite controlling 60 votes in the Senate. When Scott Brown was elected in January, they lost the supermajority in the Senate and now have to get at least one Republican vote to stop debate and move forward.

Personally, I think it is good that the Senate is not efficient. Any time government acts to do anything, we lose part of our liberty. It may be a small sliver or it may be big, but some of our freedom is taken away. This is why it is good that there are mechanisms in place to slow things down and allow the minority party to obstruct legislation they believe to be harmful to the country. The Democrats were right to decry changing senate rules in 2005.

In addition, Republicans were dangerously short-sighted five years ago. Just as a video with Democrats supporting the filibuster demonstrates their hypocrisy, Republicans are caught in a similar trap. No political party holds power in perpetuity, and it is critical for the majority party to think ahead and consider whether actions taken now - especially changes in Senate rules - could be harmful to them when they are eventually in the minority.

One of the complaints Democrats have is that the filibuster is being "overused." One possible solution is to demand a real filibuster, where Senators are required to occupy the floor and continue speaking. Once the minority party has no one to speak, a vote is taken. On matters of deep conviction, the minority party would be able to muster enough Senators to keep the debate going and the option exists to slow down the process.

Overall, the filibuster is a good thing. It prevents the majority from rashly pushing through legislation, and slowing down the process allows the American people to become educated on bad legislation. If the legislation being considered is a good idea and popular with the American people, then enough members of the minority party will allow a vote to take place out of concern for their own re-election. If Democrats change the rules now, they will have little room to complain if Republicans capture the Senate in November and use the rule change to their advantage.