By Teresa Welsh |
A serious threat has been quietly gathering against one of the most cherished safeguards of liberty in our government—the right of a political minority to have a voice.
Until now, this has always been the defining characteristic of the Senate.
That's why all senators have traditionally defended the Senate as an institution, because they knew that the Senate was the last legislative check for political minorities and small states against the kind of raw exercise of power large states and majority parties have always been tempted to wield.
The threat I'm referring to is the effort by some Democrats, most of whom have never served a day in the minority, to force a change in the Senate rules. This small group of primarily Senate sophomores is now proposing that when the Senate gavels in at the beginning of the new Congress, a bare majority of senators can disregard the rule that says changes to Senate rules can only be approved on the same broad bipartisan basis that we reserve for approving treaties and overriding presidential vetoes: a supermajority plus.
The Democratic majority leader, Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, once described changing Senate procedure by majority fiat as, "breaking the rules to change the rules." What he and these other Democrats who are now calling for change have in mind is a fundamental break with the way the Senate operates for the purpose of consolidating their own power and further marginalizing the minority voices that the Senate was built to protect.
The majority leader was once a staunch defender of the Senate's protection of minority rights. Yet now that he finds himself frustrated he's prepared to recklessly throw those rules away and his own solemn pledge to defend them.
On Dec. 8, 2006, Senator Reid made a very public pledge: "As majority leader," he said, "I intend to run the Senate with respect for the rules and for the minority rights the rules protect. The Senate was not established to be efficient … The Senate was established to make sure that minorities are protected ... I am going to do everything I can to preserve the traditions and rules of this institution that I love."
It's hard to imagine a clearer pledge than that. Yet now he wants to break the rules and his own very public pledge to defend those rules at all costs. Make no mistake: What Senator Reid is proposing is a Senate where the only rule is his whim, where the rest of us are bystanders, including the members of his own party and, most importantly, those who sent us here to represent them.
Do Democrats really want to go down this road?
About Mitch McConnell Senate Minority Leader
Jeff Merkley Democratic Senator from Oregon
KC Johnson Professor at Brooklyn College
John C. Fortier Director of the Democracy Project at the Bipartisan Policy Center