United States Senate’s worst year ever ends….
The two-year budget deal passed 64-36 Wednesday (9 GOP senators crossed the aisle to vote for the bill; 3 other GOP senators who voted to cut off debate Tuesday voted against the final bill), given 2-1/2 cheers by policy ace Peter Ferrara, albeit saddled with the odious military pension cuts Democrats insisted upon:
[NY Democrat Sen. Chuck] Schumer promised “we’ll have almost all the Democratic votes” for Ryan-Murray, even without the inclusion of an unemployment insurance extension. Democratic leaders have indicated they’ll bring that to the floor separately, likely after the holidays with a provision to make the benefits retroactive.
“I think most Democrats, realizing that government shutdown is a brutal alternative, will reluctantly vote for it,” he said of the budget. “Well, look, I think Paul Ryan and Patty Murray looked everywhere the could to try and find compromise and everybody had to take a little. Civilian federal employees have been cut, cut, cut. And I think there was a feeling, if you’re gonna cut them further, which was done, that the military retirees should have about an equal amount. It’s small.” (Italics added.)
Democrats stiffed a GOP effort to restore $6 billion military retirement benefits and replace those cuts with a $4.2 billion cut that would have ended IRS tax credits for illegals. The cuts include disabled veterans’ benefits; Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), who negotiated the package deal with Paul Ryan (R-WI), stated on the floor yesterday that a legislative fix to the provision would be enacted soon, to exempt disabled veterans from retirement benefit cuts.
GOP Sen. Tom Coburn (OK) released his government waste target list, tallied at $30 billion for this year, that could have been cut but were not–the reason, as ever, being Democrats’ desire to propitiate federal workers, a key party constituency. My favorite entry: NASA spent $125 million on (NOT a misprint) a prototype 3D pizza printer, ostensibly for use by astronauts on Mars, though Team Obama has put our manned space program into a deep coma.
One question remains as to the Senate’s performance in 2013: How much damage has the partisanship of Majority Leader Harry Reid done to the institution?
In a nutshell: a great deal. The main victim is not the Republican party, Rather it is the republic itself.
Start with a little Senate history–either unknown or unappreciated by a Senate with 56 new members in the past four election cycles (2006, 2008, 2010 & 2012), 31 of whom voted to end the filibuster as a tool for holding up judicial (Supreme Court nominees excepted) and executive branch nominees:
History: 1789 – 2004. If the House runs on the will of the majority, with 218 Members able to run the place as dictatorially as 435, the Senate runs on the consent of the minority. Until Senate Rule 22 was adopted in 1917 no party truly held control, because no one could cut off debate and force a floor vote. The “World’s Greatest Deliberative Body” (the English Parliament would chuckle at this, and not without reason) allowed unlimited debate. As this Senate Historical Table shows, cloture control has been rare since 1917. From 1917 through 1958, with 48 states, a 2/3 majority of the 96 senators was needed to cut off a filibuster. During that time the Democrats surpassed 64 seats four consecutive times, for the years 1935 – 1942, enjoying 69, 76, 69 & 66 seats in those years. From 1959 through 1975, with 100 Senators and 67 votes needed for a 2/3 cloture vote, Democrats once more, in 1965-1966, at 68 seats, had the votes to end debate and force a floor vote. In 1975 the cloture vote threshold was lowered from 2/3 to 3/5. Since that rule was adopted, Democrats twice have had enough votes, in 1975-76 (60) & 1977-78 (61), to end debate; in the first of those two-year periods, Republican Gerald Ford was in the White House.
Recent Years: 2005 – 2013. In 2009 Democrats once again had a filibuster-proof majority, lost in January 2010 when Scott Brown took the late Ted Kennedy’s seat. In all, Democrats have had filibuster-proof majorities 8 times in the 49 two-year Senates since Rule 22 was adopted, 16 percent of the time. But since the end of World War II, in the 35 Senates (counting the 1945-46 Senate) Democrats had full control 4 times, or 11 percent of the time. In contrast, Republicans have never had filibuster-proof control of the Senate.
The first filibuster of a federal appeals court judge was conducted by Democrats in 2003, stopping highly-qualified Miguel Estrada; the Democrats have used the tactic more frequently against judicial nominees than have Republicans. President Obama himself waxed eloquent in 2005, warning the Republicans not to invoke the “nuclear option” to end the filibuster. A deal by the bipartisan “Gang of 14” averted exercise of the option by the GOP. Ace reporter John Fund sees a more partisan Senate due to ideological parties and lack of protection for the minority. The NRO editors see Obama’s court-packing scheme driving the rule change, with the judges to be appointed to the influential federal appeals court for the D.C. Circuit, which hears lots of regulatory cases.
But Constitutional scholar John Yoo predicts that in the long run Democrats will rue the day that they destroyed the unique role of the Senate in protecting minority rights from encroachment by the majoritarian House and an imperial Executive. Simple arithmetic suggests Yoo may well be right: 51 votes in any future Senate will give the GOP a first-ever legislative power.
Bottom Line. As President Obama enforces the laws (or parts of laws) that he likes, now the Democrats in the Senate will do as they please, with more than two centuries of Senate tradition tossed into the trash can.