The Complications of Simple Majorities

“I don’t believe that I can support a cloture resolution providing for cloture by a simple majority vote. The difficulty with any cloture is that it changes the entire character of the debate, and that it is liable to great abuse on the part of a bare majority.” – Robert A. Taft

Let’s have a recap of the past two years in the U.S. Senate.

Republicans took control of the Senate back in the 2016 election, holding 52 seats. With the help of the Senate Finance Committee, a new tax bill was passed through a grueling process. Then, eyes were glued to television screens with Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and his accuser, Professor Christine Blasey Ford, testifying before the Senate Judicial Committee. A week later, Justice Kavanagh was approved with less than 60 votes, just as Justice Gorsuch was approved back in 2017. One can only wonder what the future holds for the Senate as we approach the Midterm Elections. As far as I can see, the institution has been delegitimized and abused. It will be hard to reverse the damage done, and regardless of which party takes control, we’ve passed the point of maintaining decorum and recognizing the happiness of the minority.

My biggest concern is with the 60-vote rule and the current abuse of it in the Senate. There are definitely reasons why the Senate requires a supermajority to change rules and pass legislation. A 60-vote supermajority ensures that a bipartisan majority – and not a partisan one – is able to prevail, making compromise necessary for legislation and appointments. It also protects the minority party from facing abuse from a majority, an important principle that this country was founded on. However, the integrity of this institution has been diminished by Democrats and Republicans alike through the use of the nuclear option and reconciliation.

Back in 2013, Senate Democrats led by Harry Reid eliminated the 60-vote rule for presidential nominations and appointments through the nuclear option, which changed filibuster and cloture rules. This is what opened the door for Republicans to add the appointment of Supreme Court justices to this rule. The new rules allowed them to nominate and confirm both Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh with simple majorities.

I believe in the integrity of the Supreme Court and its justices. I believe in the American judicial system, as I think we all should. But, I have not seen such a dangerous – if not malicious – attempt to change the construct of the Supreme Court since President Franklin Roosevelt’s Judicial Reform proposal in 1937 to “pack” the Court with new justices. Mitch McConnell once said to Democrats about the nuclear option: “You’ll regret this, and you’ll regret it a lot sooner than you think.” I hope they now see clearly what happens when you open Pandora’s box.

In addition, reconciliation allows a simple majority to pass budgetary legislation, unlike the nuclear option, which only applies to appointees by the executive. This is why in order to repeal Obamacare, Republicans only needed 50 or more votes.

As a conservative, I have a soft spot for fixing our budget, and I see a lot of problems with the Affordable Care Act, but I also want to uphold the 60-vote rule and the principles of the Senate. We must understand that our mission of maximizing freedom and individuality and promoting fiscal responsibility mean nothing if we are not guided by our consciences and following rules.

What I fear in the future is that Senate rules will change to only require a simple majority to pass laws, on top of both the nuclear option and reconciliation. Today’s politics are not about forgiving and forgetting, turning the other cheek and moving forward. The hyper-partisan environment we see today is bound to snowball into something a lot worse if we continue to think that simple majorities are a justified solution to our problems.

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