How to really Fix Our Senate

If you know me, you know I’m not much of a TV watcher. But for whatever reason we had our local news on and it morphed into the network news, then back to local news and various other programming that became sort of background noise.

But I noticed a political-style commercial that’s gotten some rotation, and once I saw it for the third time in two hours I decided to dig just a little bit. Turns out it’s a coalition of radical left-wing groups who believe that we could fix our Senate by getting rid of the filibuster – in reality that just puts a razor-thin majority in charge; one that could change at any time based on a sudden vacancy.

As they claim,  “Our highest priority is the elimination of the legislative filibuster, an outdated Senate rule that has been weaponized and abused by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to block overwhelmingly popular legislation supported by a majority of elected senators.” (What’s really popular among voters is photo voter ID, but no one seems to want to adopt that one. Not that it’s a proper federal role, anyway.)

But remember what happened in 2009 once Democrats were finally awarded a filibuster-proof majority that could ram Obamacare and the stimulus through? A month later Ted Kennedy was dead, and five months after that (after more dubious legerdemain from the Massachusetts General Court allowing Kennedy’s interim successor to be placed in office before a special election) that 60-seat majority was no more. I wish no ill will on any Senator, but in theory that Democrat majority is only as good as the health of any of its 48 Senators (plus the 2 “independents” who caucus with them.) Would they still be down with eliminating the filibuster if Joe Manchin decided to switch parties and suddenly Mitch McConnell was placed back in charge? Doubtful – they’d be back to where they were defending the filibuster just a few short years ago.

Being that we have two Democrat Senators here in Delaware (as that’s the state this series of spots seems to be aimed at) it seems like a bit of a waste to urge support unless they know that the people aren’t buying what’s being sold to back the move to eliminate the filibuster, which the FOS group describes as a relic of the last century.

Unlike the House, which has a strict majority rule and has, at times, decided key legislation by just a vote or two, the Senate is portrayed as the deliberative body. Eliminating the filibuster basically puts the Senate in the same role as the House, and that’s not what it was intended for.

But if we were to make a change in the Senate that would bring it even closer to its initial intent, we would take the real progressive step of repealing the Seventeenth Amendment. As envisioned, the Senate would return to representing the interests of the states, which has become more and more important in situations where Arizona wants to audit its election results and Texas wants to build a barrier at their border with Mexico because the federal government isn’t doing its job of border security. Perhaps such a move could hasten the necessary rightsizing of the federal government as well.

Of course, one would suspect this would put much of the electoral industry out of business – especially in a state like Delaware where there are more Senators than House members. But 2022 turns out to be a fallow year in the First State anyway since neither of our Senators is on the ballot, and it would make the local elections much more important as our General Assembly would eventually select the Senators. Imagine the emphasis shifting from a statewide race to races in swing districts around the state – districts that may see changes thanks to the new role the legislators would adopt.

Would that have an effect on the composition of the Senate? Of course, but not by as much as one might believe. At this point in time, there are 30 states where the legislature is Republican, 18 where it’s Democrat, and one mixed. (Nebraska is nonpartisan, but would likely lean GOP.) So eventually the GOP would get some degree of control, but in 2022 they would only gain three seats and it’s likely they would have done so anyway. (Mark Kelly in Arizona, Raphael Warnock in Georgia, and Maggie Hassan in New Hampshire are Democrats representing states that have GOP-c0ntrolled legislatures. Two of the three won special elections in 2020.) Make this an issue in state races and there could be states where Republicans lose control of the legislature.

Because the other side sees the Constitution as a hindrance and not a North Star of guidance, I probably have a better chance of hitting the jab lottery than seeing change like the one I propose. But it’s a change we need to bring government back to its proper place. After all, if one state screws up we have 49 others to take up the slack, but when Uncle Sam makes the mistake we all pay.

There’s nothing wrong with the system that repealing the Seventeenth can’t fix, but once the filibuster is gone, well, so is our republic.

Thoughts on #StandWithRand

I’ll admit it: last night I stayed up until almost 1 in the morning to the point where Rand Paul’s filibuster of CIA Director nominee John Brennan finally came to a close after 13 hours. That’s a lot of standing around and a study in endurance, and as one observer noted was all about policy – no one was reading out of a phone book.

It’s the longest filibuster since the civil rights era, but the important difference between Paul’s effort and the 24-plus hours Strom Thurmond held court was that there was no live television coverage of the Senate at the time. Back then, there were plans if need be to set up a bucket in an adjacent room for Thurmond, who spoke for practically the entire 24-hour period. This wasn’t the case last night, as several other Senators were yielded time to ask questions or otherwise pontificate on the subject while Paul held the floor.

But I came home and read today the Senate had indeed confirmed Brennan as CIA head, and as far as I know there was no answer provided by the White House on the drone question. Now perhaps that silence speaks volumes enough, but if you consider what the aim of the filibuster was I’m not sure it can be considered anything but a failure in the immediate aftermath.

Then again, Strom Thurmond had a pretty lengthy career in the Senate after his long-winded soliloquy so we don’t know what the future might bring for Rand Paul. Could he have vaulted himself into the 2016 Presidential race with this performance? A run for the Oval Office would mean Paul would likely have to give up his Senate seat; then again, Republicans and conservatives have rarely been as inspired as they were last night since the early Sarah Palin days and the eventual rise of the TEA Party. It may be a gamble worth taking, although liberals will surely try to equate father and son in that race just as they did the Bushes.

Again, though, I have to ponder the idea that I stayed up until nearly one in the morning to see how it came out. When was the last time a riveting political event (aside from an election) took place at that late hour? They don’t even do document dumps that time of night.

Update: This is what happens when you’re out of the loop during the day, as I was yesterday. An e-mail from the TEA Party Patriots quotes Attorney General Eric Holder as saying, “It has come to my attention that you have now asked an additional question: ‘Does the President have the authority to use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on American soil.’ The answer to that question is no.” This is based on a Fox News story from Thursday.