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Ever since Democrats changed the Senate’s rules to prohibit filibusters of judicial appointments, Republicans have been debating what to do in response once they take the majority. Some have argued for returning to the status quo before the changes, while others contend that we should stick to the new rules to give Democrats a taste of their own medicine. I argue we should advance the changes and eliminate the filibuster entirely.
Liberals generally think they’ll benefit from the end of the filibuster, but the truth is that conservatives would gain far more from its repeal. For decades, the filibuster has been used to entrench the bureaucratic state. In the thirties, Roosevelt successfully intimidated the Supreme Court into overturning a century of precedent, saying that the federal and state governments had little authority to interfere in freely negotiated, private, contractual arrangements. That move paved the way for the Wagner Act, minimum wage laws, price controls, and — eventually — the ACA; basically the entire progressive agenda. The Supreme Court’s panicked reversal allowed progressive vote-buying by government spending, which led to the formation of durable progressive constituencies, and a decades-long, successful campaign to take over the judiciary.
Fortunately, Democrats have not learned the lesson of their own success. Unfortunately, neither have Republicans who favor reinstating the filibuster, despite the fact that Obama’s appointments can’t be rescinded and that unilaterally reestablishing the old rules will only concede the conservative agenda. Conservatives have to recognize that progressives have changed the nature of the relationship between the organs of government and — while adhering to the rules in the constitution — we mustn’t shy away from changing other rules to advance our agenda of greater individual freedom.
When government was small and restricted to enumerated powers, the filibuster might have served as a brake on the expansion of government and the diluting of individual freedom, much as the judiciary checked the expansion of government power before the progressive conquest of the courts. These days, however, it serves the opposite purpose, protecting expanded government and securing the progressives’ gains at the expense of individual freedom. At the same time, it limits the ability of conservatives to undo the progressive project by requiring supermajorities to undo their progress. When was the last time that a conservative coalition had a filibuster proof majority at the same time that a conservative held the presidency, and how likely do you think we are to get a situation like that any time soon?
Without the filibuster, the ability to dissolve entire cabinet departments and rewrite the budget and immigration law with simple majorities in Congress and a Republican president is much more likely and probably just around the corner. In fact, the complete end of the filibuster — along with the financial ruin of the welfare state — could spell the beginning of a golden age where government seems so unstable and unpredictable that the electorate simply won’t trust government with any important responsibilities. To usher it in, Republicans only have to have the courage to eliminate the filibuster the next time that Democrats attempt to frustrate their efforts to redesign government from the majority position.
Conservatives didn’t start the transformation of the Senate, and conservatives can’t let the transformation end at a point determined by progressive opponents. Conservatives need to advance the conservative agenda.Published in