With the Senate’s “nuclear option” being enacted for SCOTUS nominations, many have started to talk about whether or not to get rid of the filibuster entirely in the Senate.
Late last week, President Trump’s Supreme Court Nominee, Neil Gorsuch, was confirmed by the Senate thanks to Senate Republicans invoking the much hyped “nuclear option.” So with a simple Republican majority in the Senate, Neil Gorsuch became the 113th Supreme Court Justice in US history.
PHOTO: Gorsuch being sworn in at Supreme Court (pic via court) pic.twitter.com/MVRYk0wt9h
— Lawrence Hurley (@lawrencehurley) April 10, 2017
However, the confirmation of Gorsuch wasn’t the only outcome that came from Senate Republicans enacting the nuclear option; procedures for confirming Supreme Court nominees in general had also fundamentally changed. Along with federal judgeships and cabinet positions, Supreme Court nominees only need a simple majority vote (51 senators) to be confirmed, unlike with the old threshold of 60 votes (3/5 of the Senate) to get the nomination. So with SCOTUS nominees now only needing a simple majority, the only vote that needs a 3/5 majority in the Senate are legislative agendas. But is that really necessary?
It’s a question that has been asked the last couple of days, by multiple outlets, wondering if the “nuclear option” should be used on legislative matters as well, thus making the Senate filibuster a thing of the past. With convincing arguments on both sides, it looks like it’s time for another point/counter-point!
Point: The Senate should use the nuclear option on legislative votes and just have bills pass with a simple majority.
As of March 2017, Gallop measured Congress’ approval rating to be around 24%. While it has grown in the past few month – at its lowest, it was at 13% (!!) – the expectations that people have for Congress are still laughably low. And truthfully, they have every right to feel that way! In the last congressional session, the 113th Congress, only 6% of all legislation that was introduced passed!
While both Congressional Republicans and Democrats continue to point the finger at each other for Congresses’ general lack of productivity – each accusing the other party of blocking their legislative agendas just to be obstructionist – in reality, the polarization of American politics has created an atmosphere where enacting any type of legislation is almost impossible. However, if Congress were to use the “nuclear option” to change the parliamentary rules in the Senate, so a simple majority could pass legislation (51 votes), that would go far in allowing elected officials to do what they were originally sent to do in the first place; enact legislation!
While opponents of getting rid of the Senate filibuster would complain that this would allow the majority party in the Senate to run roughshod in terms of their legislative agenda, in reality, the current partisan climate doesn’t foster legislative compromise. All the Senate filibuster currently does is allow the minority party to obstruct the majority party’s legislative agenda, essentially going against the will of the people! The true check in the Senate comes from the voters that elect the members of that chamber. Everyone in the Senate is there because their state’s constituents wanted legislation to be passed by those that are sent, so if a majority of Senators are from a particular party, why shouldn’t they be able to dictate legislation? For better or worse, that’s the will of the people!
Counter-Point: Getting rid of the Senate filibuster, through the “nuclear option”, would do more harm than good!
The filibuster is an important part of Senate procedures and is a vital tool in the Senate to make sure the majority party has some kind of legislative check. Without the Senate filibuster, there is a real concern that voices of the minority party would be completely stamped out! After all, if a simple majority is all that is needed to pass legislation, then why would the Senate majority ever compromise on anything?
Granted, in the current political climate, neither party is really communicating when creating their legislative agendas. However, since Senate legislation needs a 3/5 majority for it to pass, there’s still a very real incentive for opposing parties to come to the table and compromise over legislation. That incentive is completely gone with a simple majority vote.
Yet the most obvious reason for why it’s a bad idea to use the nuclear option to re-write Senate procedures is that it introduces legislative instability into the process. If the majority party of the Senate were to ever control the House and presidency, then potentially legislation could be passed with little to no resistance with a simple majority. However, if the majority party would lose control of the Senate in the next election, then it would be easier for the new controlling party to repeal a legislative action that could cause major implementation problems!
At an administrative level, new laws take time to enact. In many cases, it could take months for administrators to properly enforce new laws and if Congress continually changes statutes anytime there is a different majority party in power, which adds an element of instability which our government institutions aren’t built for. The fact that passing legislation with a simple majority in the Senate could potentially cause element instability in core government functions. That alone should make us steer clear of using the nuclear option to do away with the Senate filibuster!
(Photo Credits: Pixabay.com, Google Images)