Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan are flogging Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi at every opportunity for being obstructionists and for wanting to shut down the government.
(The truth is that only about 17% of the government actually shuts down when the government “shuts down,” which is why I’ve put the phrase in quotation marks. Social Security checks keep going out, welfare checks keep going out, and so forth. And every federal worker who is furloughed during the “shutdown” gets all his back pay in one lump sum when the crisis is solved. So a government shutdown essentially represents a paid vacation for everybody who works for Uncle Sam.)
But here is what Mitch McConnell does not want you to know: the real obstructionist here is not Chuck Schumer or Nancy Pelosi, but Mitch McConnell himself. This is because he continues to allow for a fake filibuster (which I call a “fake-a-buster”) that requires 60 votes to end. This means for any meaningful legislation to go forward - including a continuing resolution (CR) to keep the doors of government open -, a little cabal of nine obstreperous Democrats can completely gum up the wheels of government and bring them to a grinding halt.
The original idea behind the filibuster is actually a good one, and one which I support. Filibuster used to mean “unlimited debate.” In other words, as long as any lawmaker had something he wanted to contribute to the debate, the floor would remain open until every voice was heard and every point had been made. All well and good. But eventually you get to the point where everybody has had their say, you vote to close debate, and then go directly to a vote on the legislation. That’s how it’s supposed to work.
But the fake-a-buster is not like that. Rather than extending debate, it terminates debate. As soon as somebody calls for the fake-a-buster, all debate stops until one side or the other can cobble together 60 votes to break it. (The House has always required only a simple majority to end debate.)
This, of course, allows for the tyranny of the minority. It allows a tiny, little clique of nine senators to control the entire United States Senate. This would have been unthinkable to the Founders, who made no provision for a filibuster of any kind in the Constitution. As Thomas Jefferson said, “Where the law of the majority ceases to be acknowledged, there government ends.”
The 60-vote filibuster is not in the Constitution nor is it in the law anywhere. It is found only in the Senate rules, which can be changed at any time, with a simple majority of 51 votes. Harry Reid, for instance, got rid of the filibuster for appeals court nominees in 2013, and the Republicans got rid of it for Supreme Court nominees in 2016, which is how we got Neil Gorsuch on the bench.
Senate Republicans have 51 votes right now, as we speak. In other words, the Republican majority could terminate the filibuster rule today. And they should. In the meantime, do not let Mitch McConnell lie to you. The Democrats are not the real problem here. He is.