Perhaps like me you were taught in school that the nation’s founders feared popular rule. That view is wrong. The Founders wanted enduring popular rule. They feared that rule by narrow, fleeting majorities would lead to wild swings of policy, undermining the public’s own trust in popular rule. So to ensure government by durable majorities, they created, among other institutions, the U.S. Senate.
Last week from the floor of the Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell discussed the damage that has been done to that institution in recent years. Reading his remarks I thought, “Well, at least there is one adult in the room.” Excerpts follow (to see his remedies, read the full text (http://1.usa.gov/1d0GuGu):
Over the past several years, those of us who are fortunate enough to serve here have engaged in many fierce debates….
Despite the daily drumbeat of headlines about gridlock and dysfunction in Washington, the truth is, an activist president and a Democrat-controlled Senate have managed to check off an awful lot of items on their wish list, one way or another. And yet just as important as what they did is how they did it, because that’s also been at the heart of so many of the fights we’ve had around here over the past several years. These conflicts haven’t stemmed from personal grievances or contempt, as some would have it. They are, instead, the inevitable consequence of an administration that was in such a hurry to impose its agenda that it neglected to persuade the public of its wisdom, and then cast aside one of the greatest tools we have in this country for guaranteeing a durable and stable legislative consensus — and that’s the Senate….
[E]ven if you’re completely at peace about what happened in November, even if you think it was perfectly fine to violate the all-important rule that says changing the rules requires the assent of two-thirds of Senators duly elected and sworn, none of us should be happy with the trajectory the Senate was on even before that day, or the condition we find it in 225 years after it was created….
There’s a time for making a political point, even scoring points. I know that as well as anybody. But it can’t be only thing we do here….
The only institution that can make stable and enduring laws is the only one we have in which all 50 states are represented equally, and where every single Senator therefore has a say in the laws we pass here. This is what the Senate was designed for. It’s what the Senate is supposed to be all about, and almost always has been.
“Just take a look at some of the most far-reaching legislation of the past century. Look at the vote tallies. Medicare and Medicaid were both approved with the support of about half the members of the minority. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 passed with the votes of 30 out of 32 members of the Republican minority — all but two. Only six Senators voted against the Social Security Act. And only eight voted against the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“None of this happened by throwing these bills together in a backroom and dropping them on the floor with a stopwatch running. It happened through a laborious process of legislating, persuasion, and coalition-building. It took time and patience and hard work, and it guaranteed that every one of these laws had stability.
“Now compare that to the attitude behind Obamacare. When Democrats couldn’t convince any of us that this bill was worth supporting as written, they decided to do it on their own and pass it on a party line vote. And now we’re seeing the result. The chaos this law has visited on our country isn’t just deeply tragic, it was entirely predictable. And that will always be the case if you approach legislation without regard for the views of the other side. Without some meaningful buy-in, you guarantee a food fight. You guarantee instability and strife. It may very well have been the case that on Obamacare, the will of the country was not to pass the bill at all. That’s what I would have concluded if Republicans couldn’t get a single Democrat vote for legislation of this magnitude. I’d have thought, maybe this isn’t such a great idea. But Democrats plowed forward anyway. They didn’t want to hear it. And the results are clear. It’s a mess.
“The Senate exists to prevent that. Because without a moderating institution like the Senate, today’s majority passes something and tomorrow’s majority repeals it; today’s majority proposes something, tomorrow’s majority opposes it. We see that in the House all the time. But when the Senate is allowed to work the way it was designed to, it arrives at a result that’s acceptable to people all along the political spectrum….
[I]f America is to face up to the challenges we face in the decades ahead, she’ll need the Senate the Founders in their wisdom intended, not the hollow shell of the Senate we have today.