If Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., succeeds, against all odds, in altering Senate rules to amend or abolish the filibuster, he will quickly join Harry Reid from Nevada as among the best Democratic allies the Republican Party has ever had.
Washington Post columnist Marc A. Thiessen recently detailed Reid’s greatest legacy – the confirmations of Justices Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett by simple Senate majorities. As Reid’s gambit showed, the consequences of supposed reforms can often be counterproductive.
So it will be for Schumer’s party if the leader’s filibuster fix is allowed to succeed.
The real winner in Schumer’s gambit would most likely be Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who will use the new Schumer rule to enact a generation’s worth of regulatory rollbacks and other reforms, just as he used the Reid rule to guide the Supreme Court to a 6-to-3 conservative majority.
McConnell is the ultimate realist. He warned Reid in 2013 that weakening the filibuster would backfire on Democrats: “You will regret this, and you may regret this a lot sooner than you think.”
By most accounts, Schumer needs to be caught trying to alter the filibuster rule even though the votes for such a move don’t exist. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., continues to oppose changing the decades-old rule; and other Democrats are believed by some to stand behind him in private, grateful for his public courage.
But if the filibuster is somehow revised or amended, the GOP majorities that look certain to emerge in both chambers after November will combine with whoever the GOP nominates in 2024 to create a unified field of Republican power in January 2025. Expect the new Republican president to use the new rules to move quickly to enact long-overdue reforms.
First on my list would be a comprehensive measure that obliges school districts receiving federal funds to end public employee unions in schools. Teachers will holler and shout, but simple majority rule in the Senate will roll them. The disgust that has greeted the Chicago Teachers Union vote this week to defy the city’s in-person learning order – and teachers unions’ conduct during the pandemic generally – has not diminished the respect Americans have for the hard-working educator. But state “education associations” as teachers unions are often called, long ago overplayed their hands.
Extreme environmentalists already worry that long-overdue updates to the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act are coming, in part because those reforms will reduce their long-running accumulations of so-called stakeholder power in decisions far removed from conservation. If the country is to get moving again, amending these laws will be a crucial first step. The filibuster has long protected these self-appointed guardians of water, air, land and sea. That could all change in 2025.
Defense spending, entitlement reform and reductions in the federal workforce will all get a big lift in 2025 using simple majorities in both houses. Republican staffers should spend 2023 and 2024 drafting bills and telegraphing a new reform era, so it can be launched in January 2025. The goal: disempowering bureaucrats and interest groups.
True, a new “simple majority” Congress will be more prone to huge mood swings. But the accumulated power of Democratic special-interest groups, once dashed, will prove hard to recover. Schumer is risking it all.
If Schumer succeeds, the GOP need not worry about the unconstitutional provisions of the “voting rights protection” bills now being bandied about. The 6-to-3 conservative Supreme Court created by Reid’s folly a decade ago will strike them down, just as it will strike down a number of other laws in the current or future terms. Schumer should learn from Reid and remember: Mess with the filibuster at your peril.
Hugh Hewitt hosts a nationally syndicated radio show on the Salem Network. The author of 14 books about politics, history and faith, he is also a political analyst for NBC, president of the Nixon Foundation and a professor of law at Chapman University Law School, where he has taught constitutional law since 1996.
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