The U.S. Senate should switch to 51 votes, immediately, and get Healthcare and TAX CUTS approved, fast and easy. Dems would do it, no doubt!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 30, 2017
Well, that tweet says it all. President Donald J. Trump wants the United States Senate to abandon decades of tradition and invoke the nuclear option – but this time, not just for the Supreme Court, but all legislation.
Of course, he wants that. Why would this disrupter of a president not want a system that would allow all of his policies to be passed into law with a simple majority of fifty-one votes rather than the sixty required by long-standing Senate protocol? This universal nuclear option would allow Trump to sidestep the strident opposition of those scorched-earth Democrats intent on killing everything Trump supports – including even those initiatives, such as new trade deals, infrastructure, and preservation of entitlements, on which they largely agree with the President.
Based on the indignant reaction of wizened members of the exclusive club of Congress’s upper chamber – Democrats and Republicans alike – the feeling in the Senate is not mutual. In fact, not a single Senator has publicly supported the idea of an all-encompassing nuclear option.
Based on the reaction of these esteemed Senators, one would think that such a move would create some sort of constitutional crisis. That it would imperil our republic. That it would discard a system based on the wisdom of the ages.
Think again. The word filibuster is not to be found in the US Constitution. It is instead a product of Senate rules – set by Senators, for Senators. So let us not elevate the concept to a similar place of reverence as actual constitutional principles.
There is, of course, the argument based on the intent of the framers of the Constitution, that the Senate should sit above the fray, and render their cool, even and nonpartisan judgment on matters debated in the partisan heat of the US House of Representatives.
That might have been true in the original constitutional order, which called for Senators to be appointed by the legislatures of each state. But ever since 1913, and passage of the 17th amendment institutionalizing the same direct popular election of Senators as exists in the House, Senators have become glorified statewide Congressmen (and women), much as they dispute that notion from their lofty perch in the upper chamber. The only real difference is that Senate seats cost a whole lot more money to win than congressional seats.
Fact is, the century-long descent of the US Senate into the same type of partisan hotbed as the House was all but sealed when then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) invoked the nuclear option for all federal judges short of the Supreme Court in 2013. The Republicans’ expansion of the simple majority to include the Supreme Court became inevitable – one would have expected Democrats to do the same if Hillary Clinton became president. And it became just a matter of time before this call for all matters before the Senate to be decided by a simple majority – just like in the House.
So the question becomes: apart from simply invoking tradition, what has the Senate done to justify their elevated place of honor in the Washington swamp? Has it demonstrated the self-ascribed wise and considered judgment and avoided the shrill partisan posturing they declare to be beneath their dignity? One look at Chuck Schumer (D-NY), and that question answers itself.
Consider the healthcare reform bill finally, torturously, passed by the House on its third bite at the apple. The bill was instantly – almost automatically – declared DOA, dead on arrival in the Senate. By Republicans! And for good measure, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (D-KY) – again, a Republican – added in short order that he does not know where he will “find the votes” to pass even an entirely different Senate healthcare bill.
Are you kidding me? You Republicans practically make a living on the promise to repeal and replace Obamacare over four election cycles, and now you finally have the undeniable power to get it done. And you pronounce publicly that it’s doubtful? I mean, even the Democrats seeming suicide march of treachery against Trump might look better to the voters of 2018 than the hypocrisy of a GOP who fails to live up to its signature promise. Ask President George H.W. Bush, he of “read my lips, no new taxes,” what he knows about the impact of breaking a core promise to the voters.
And, this begs the question of just why Senate Republicans are so reflexively averse to the entire House healthcare bill? Is it because it is insufficiently free-market in its mechanisms? Is it because it strays too far from the premises of Obamacare? Or because it too closely resembles Obamacare? Pick your objection – which is it? – but for heaven’s sake, tell us why you have both discarded all the work performed by the House and sent out ominous signals about your willingness and/or ability to simply get your house in order, enforce party discipline and get this done.
Or is your posturing a result of running scared from voters who will express outrage over the flashing headlines about all the people who will not have healthcare insurance over the coming years. The detail they leave out is that many of those people will not be insured by choice, But never mind that, It’s pushing Granny off the cliff. Again. And you again show few signs of resistance.
This august body of men and women have become a punchline in recent years, based on their increasingly legendary propensity for, like the James Brown song says, talkin’ loud and sayin’ nothing. Or more precisely, doing nothing.
Of course, the obvious corollary to the nuclear option is that Democrats can use the same rule to their advantage when they gain power. So it all comes down to an educated guess as to how much your party can push through in the time you control all three ends of the triangle – House, Senate, and White House – versus the damage the opposing party can do when they own all three.
But that is likely a moot point – at least for now. Given Senate intransigence on the full strength nuclear option, combined with the senate’s view of Donald Trump as some sort of alien life form, friendly or not, this clarion call by the President is almost certain to go unanswered. But it has at least raised the discussion of how the Senate conducts its business in a hyper-partisan age.
The reality-turned-myth of Senate preeminence as “the world’s greatest deliberative body” has long since been shattered. Evidently, the Senators themselves are the last ones to find out.