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Jewish World Review
Dec. 29, 2009 / 13 Teves 5770
Memo to the House: Adopt the Filibuster
The filibuster is sure taking its lumps these days. New York Times
columnist Paul Krugman says "the Senate and, therefore, the U.S.
government as a whole has become ominously dysfunctional". The Democrats won the White House and
Congress last year and should have had no trouble passing the health
care overhaul, yet "the need for 60 votes to cut off Senate debate and
end a filibuster a requirement that appears nowhere in the
Constitution, but is simply a self-imposed rule turned what should
have been a straightforward piece of legislating into a nail-biter. And
it gave a handful of wavering senators extraordinary power to shape the
Why is this "dysfunctional"? I assume Krugman would praise the
filibuster if a President Palin and Republican Congress were ramming
bills through. Regardless of what senators in the 19th century had in
mind, the filibuster is a wonderful antidote to the tyranny of the
majority. It's no argument against it to say that the statists' favorite
piece of legislation didn't fly through smoothly enough. They'll have to
come up with a better case than that.
There is no greater threat to individual freedom and autonomy than
government. The threat from private freelance crime is small potatoes
compared to the daily usurpations of the state, with its taxation,
regulation, privilege-granting, inflation and war. Pierre-Joseph
Proudhon's immortal passage has never been topped:
"To be governed is to be watched, inspected, spied upon, directed,
law-driven, numbered, regulated, enrolled, indoctrinated, preached at,
controlled, checked, estimated, valued, censured, commanded, by
creatures who have neither the right nor the wisdom nor the virtue to do
so. To be governed is to be at every operation, at every transaction
noted, registered, counted, taxed, stamped, measured, numbered,
assessed, licensed, authorized, admonished, prevented, forbidden,
reformed, corrected, punished. It is, under pretext of public utility,
and in the name of the general interest, to be place(d) under
contribution, drilled, fleeced, exploited, monopolized, extorted from,
squeezed, hoaxed, robbed; then, at the slightest resistance, the first
word of complaint, to be repressed, fined, vilified, harassed, hunted
down, abused, clubbed, disarmed, bound, choked, imprisoned, judged,
condemned, shot, deported, sacrificed, sold, betrayed; and to crown all,
mocked, ridiculed, derided, outraged, dishonored."
That just about covers it.
So I favor any procedural methods that can slow down government's
legislative juggernaut. During the health care debate, commentators
often referred to the lawmaking process as sausage-making, a reference
to this quote, usually misattributed to Otto von Bismarck but spoken by
poet John Godfrey Saxe: "Laws, like sausages, cease to inspire respect
in proportion as we know how they are made."
What those commentators overlooked is that it's the taxpayers who get
Of course, the filibuster and other stalling methods can be used to stop
bills that would advance liberty, like tax cuts and the repeal of
restrictions. But I'll play the odds. On any given day, what is Congress
more likely to do: violate or expand liberty? As 19th-century New York
Judge Gideon Tucker put it, "No man's life, liberty or property are safe
while the legislature is in session."
Libertarian science-fiction writer Robert Heinlein had a good idea. One
of his novels depicted a bicameral legislature with one chamber needing
a supermajority to pass laws and the other needing only a minority of
votes to repeal them.
By the standard of protecting freedom and keeping government caged,
that's not a bad idea. It should be easier to repeal laws than to pass
After all, look at what Congress has been up to lately. Our "leaders"
are on the verge of passing a Rube Goldberg-like contraption that would
raise insurance prices, compel everyone to buy insurance, increase
America's debt, destroy jobs and limit innovation. Low-income people, as
usual, will get the worst of it despite the politicians' boast that
they are "covered."
If any piece of legislation is worthy of procedural burial, this is it.
One need not be a fan of Republicans to be pleased that they gave the
filibuster a try.
So let's not kill the filibuster. In fact, I have a better idea: Let's
extend it to the House.
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