"First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win." -- Mahatma Gandhi

Democrats Should Drop Their Plans For A Partisan “Power Grab”

January 6th, 2011 by mopns · No Comments

The new Congress that includes the 63 new House Republicans and 13 new Senate Republicans who were elected in November were sworn in yesterday, but the Democrats who were so roundly repudiated by the American people seem determined to continue the behaviors that got them in trouble in the first place. Yesterday, several Democrat senators planned on introducing partisan changes to the Senate rules “aimed at empowering the majority at the expense of the minority,” as Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell describes the proposals in an op-ed for The Washington Post today.

Speaking at The Heritage Foundation yesterday, Senate Republican Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander elaborated on the nature of what some Democrats are proposing: “When [S]ome have threatened to try to change the rules so it would be easier to do with every piece of legislation what they did with the health care bill: ram it through on a partisan vote, with little debate, amendment, or committee consideration, and without listening to minority voices. The brazenness of this proposed action is that Democrats are proposing to use the very tactics that in the past almost every Democratic leader has denounced, including President Obama and Vice President Biden, who has said that it is ‘a naked power grab’ and destructive of the Senate as a protector of minority rights.”

In his op-ed, Leader McConnell notes that when Republicans took power in the Senate in 1995, their first vote was against a proposal by Democrat Sen. Tom Harkin to change the filibuster rules. McConnell writes, “Though it was clearly in the Republican majority’s short-term interest to support the measure, every one of us voted against it, as did then-Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. and senior members of the Democratic leadership in the Senate, including the majority leader and the president pro tempore.” Indeed, the proposal was voted down 79-19.

In opposing the Harkin proposal, Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) said, “The full-scale elimination of one of the most sacred rules of the Senate–the filibuster–will not result in a more efficient Senate. In fact, it has the potential to result in the tyranny of the majority.”

Leader McConnell explains what Reid got right back then. “What every Republican senator, and many Democratic senators, realized at the time was that any attempt by a sitting majority to grasp at power would come back to haunt us. Even worse, any rule change aimed at making it easier for one party to force legislation through the Senate with only a slim partisan majority would undermine the Senate’s unique role as a moderating influence and put a permanent end to bipartisanship.”

Democrat Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska seems to understand this as well. He told the Omaha World-Herald today, “The last thing we need to do is start changing rules, with 51 votes and simple majority, and make the Senate a smaller version of the House.”

Leader McConnell also points out that these changes could backfire on Democrats, writing, “A change in the rules by a bare majority aimed at benefiting Democrats today could just as easily be used to benefit Republicans tomorrow. . . . And have those pushing for these changes forgotten how their party used the rules of the Senate to block legislation when Republicans were in the majority? Given the ease with which majorities can shift these days, Democrats might want to be careful what they wish for.”

Even The Washington Post’s Ruth Marcus gets this. In her column today, she writes, “[T]he precedent of fiddling with the rules at the start of each Congress introduces the opportunity for more mischief the next time around. . . . If Democrats succeed in establishing that the rules are open for change by majority vote, what happens if Republicans win a Senate majority in 2012? Democrats have 23 seats to defend that year compared with 10 for Republicans. Anyone want to bet the mortgage money on the outcome?”

Leader McConnell concludes his piece by offering some advice for Democrats. “For two years, Democrats in Congress have hoped their large majorities would make it easy for them to pass extremely partisan legislation. Now that they’ve lost an election, they’ve decided to change the rules rather than change their behavior. They should resist the impulse. Democrats should reflect on what they have done to alienate voters, not double down on the approach that got them here. They should recall the lesson of Jan. 5, 1995, when Republicans responded to their own new majority by recognizing that it wasn’t permanent.”

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