Fire and ice. This is how the framers of the U.S. Constitution envisioned the House of Representatives and the Senate respectively. The House, as the lower chamber closest to the people, would be marked by heated and passionate debate. The Senate as the upper chamber would then cool the raging passions with reasoned deliberation, and bipartisan compromise would prevail.
This bicameral legislature was the product of the same principle applied to the electoral college which we utilize to select presidents. It was devised as a method to assure that adequate attention is paid not just to big states, but also to small states and thus a broader swath of the electorate. Likewise, the so-called Connecticut Compromise was forged between those framers favoring fully proportional representation in the federal legislature and those concerned that such proportionality would hamper the small states. This legislative structure accounted for both outsized influence of population centers and the legitimate interests of those who would become irrelevant in a strictly population-based legislature.
Well, that was then, and this is now. And this fundamental legislative formula, that fire and ice designed to produce good law, no longer prevails. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) made sure of that by condemning every decision by President Trump since the day he was inaugurated and then vowing to fight the president’s obviously impressive Supreme Court nominee to the bitter end.
The Republican maneuver in response to Schumer – changing Senate rules to assure confirmation of Neil Gorsuch to the high court – may well signal that the last vestiges of deliberative bipartisanship will soon disappear from the upper chamber. Indeed, many informed observers believe Republicans may move to invoke the same “nuclear option,” the 51-vote requirement that precludes filibusters from the minority, in the legislative process.
And given the priorities of the political class, it would hardly be surprising. After all, while those who stand at a distance from the political process can easily envision the long-term consequences of turning the Senate into the same type of partisan hotbed as the House, politicians are interested in the immediate – the right here, right now – whatever can best position them for the next election. And right now, Republicans still stinging from the failure of their initial health care reform efforts appear ready, willing and able to do whatever it takes to assure passage of vital legislation – including but not limited to tax reform, infrastructure and healthcare reform 2.0.
So the GOP changes the rules to allow for highly partisan judicial appointments, and then they consider doing the same for legislation. That means these 21st century Republicans are the ones responsible for this descent of the Senate into a purely partisan chamber, right? Not exactly.
While the Senate devolves into a chamber increasingly indistinguishable from the House, it is important to understand this is the result not just of what has transpired in the seventeen years of this century.
For the first 125 years of the republic, senators were selected by state legislatures. But along came the 17th amendment to the Constitution, passed by Congress in 1912 and ratified a year later. It fundamentally changed the nature of the Senate by calling for the direct election of senators by the voters. This effectively transformed Senators into statewide congressmen.
Opponents of the amendment argue that it reduces the power of states in favor of the federal government, while proponents respond by citing the fundamentally undemocratic nature of a body of politicians instead of voters determining their state’s representation in the upper chamber. While sporadic efforts have been made by conservatives to repeal the 17th amendment, none have come close to effecting a return to the original method of electing senators.
But even with the advent of the 17th amendment, the Senate remained a largely collegial body for several decades. And then in 1987, along came Robert Bork, the only Supreme Court nominee to have a verb named after him – because of the vicious ad hominem attacks unleashed on him by Ted Kennedy and his liberal cohorts in the Senate. In the three decades since, “borking” GOP Supreme Court nominees has become a favorite pastime of the Democrat party, And it has finally led to where we are now – possibly on the precipice of a Senate entirely unmoored from its original identity.
The left has proven to be disinterested at best in honoring the proper functioning of the federal government. They have repeatedly demonstrated since last November 8th that they will do anything and test the outer limits of legitimate opposition to get their way. Their multiple failed attempts to delegitimize Donald Trump’s election – the latest being the fake narrative of Trump colluding with Russia which was shattered with the president’s airstrike in Syria – proves that not even the results of a free and fair election will stop them from their relentless pursuit of fundamentally transforming America. And they effectuate this by whatever means present themselves – or which they fabricate out of whole cloth. Put simply; they do not even acknowledge that they lost and that elections have consequences.
We all know that the tables will turn in four, eight, twelve or however many years when the Democrats regain control of the White House and Senate. They will embrace the same power the current majority has assumed for itself to affect their own brand of partisan decision-making. But right now, they have brought this transformation of the Senate on themselves and are on the outside looking in. And they are not enjoying the view.
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