On Monday, pro-lifers won the Senate vote to defund Planned Parenthood, but lost anyway. Anyone else see a problem here?
The bill got fifty-three votes. A majority. Odds are, your civics class taught that’s how bills pass. Heck, the federal government still teaches kids that’s how it works.
How it actually works, however, is much more convoluted. Technically, a simple majority still passes legislation, but in practice that doesn’t matter anymore because under current Senate rules, the vote can be staved off with indefinite debate (filibuster) unless sixty votes are cast to end the debate (cloture).
It’s a setup brought to you by a torturous history of conflicting interests and shifting political winds (seriously, I have a degree in this stuff and my eyes still glazed over), and consequently, pro- and anti-filibuster sentiment doesn’t fall neatly along the Left-Right divide.
The defense (aside from “I wanna keep it because my party happens to be the beneficiary right now,” of course) is that it allows the minority to keep the majority from passing anything too extreme, theoretically forcing lawmakers to seek consensus in drafting legislation.
It’s a lovely thought…if you ignore basically everything we know about modern-day politics. One party’s vision of how the world should work is so ideologically radical that it simply isn’t open to incorporating opponents’ ideas in any meaningful way, and the other is so philosophically craven and aimless that its idea of consensus has more to do with political expediency than effect on the country.
Earlier this year, conservative commentators Charles Krauthammer and Hugh Hewitt called on Senate Republicans to end the filibuster so we might actually see some results from their new majority. The former argued that the “filibuster has grown in use and power over the decades to the point of dysfunction. Everything needed 60 votes. This is relatively new and nowhere to be found in the Constitution.” The latter warned that Republicans “need to tell their story through action, not speeches, and they need to start now.” And both pointed out that the Democrats are likely to kill off the filibuster during their next majority anyway, so the GOP might as well reap the benefits of cloture-free governing while they can.
Yes, the sixty-vote threshold can prevent pro-abortion majorities from passing horrible legislation like the EACH Woman Act, but it’s also keeping pro-life majorities from defunding Planned Parenthood and banning abortions at twenty weeks.
And consider: we’ve all been frustrated by the prospect of having to wait years and years until Supreme Court Justices eventually resign, then a pro-life president eventually replaces them, then a future legal dispute eventually reaches SCOTUS again, then the new majority votes to overturn Roe v. Wade, then we can finally vote to directly end abortion-on-demand.
But what if I told you Roe v. Wade could be overturned, and all abortions voted on, as early as January 20, 2017? A bill like the Life at Conception Act could do it. A pro-life president may well win election next year. Congress’s pro-life majority could hold or expand. But do you really want to risk the fates of millions of preborn babies on the likelihood of the next Senate having sixty strong pro-lifers?
Ultimately, we live in a system where the majority, while not without limits, rules. We’re all used to hearing the phrase “elections have consequences” used as an excuse for the losing side to capitulate (see: judicial nominees), but here it should be a clarion call for the winning side to act. In November, the American people voted to move away from pro-abortion extremism.
A supposedly pro-life Senate shouldn’t let meaningless, extra-constitutional rules get in the way of keeping their promise to the electorate.