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OPINION | GUEST COLUMN: Preserving filibuster offers protections for smaller states like Arkansas

by BY JOHN BOOZMAN | January 12, 2022 at 1:00 a.m.


I've had the privilege of serving Arkansans in the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives in both the majority and the minority, so I know how unmistakably important it is to protect the rights of the minority and the interests of individual states – especially those like Arkansas that are more rural and less populated.

That's what our country's founders had in mind when they designed the Senate.

James Madison argued to the Constitution's other framers that the Senate would be a "necessary fence" against "fickleness and passion." George Washington is said to have analogized the Senate's role in tempering the legislative process to a saucer cooling hot tea.

The Senate is sometimes referred to as "the world's greatest deliberative body" -- the key word being deliberative. It was not crafted to quickly, perfunctorily approve or reject legislation passed by the House. Instead, it offers equal representation to each state and a procedural process that incentivizes and rewards consensus.

Those factors benefit the Natural State, allowing Arkansas to punch above our weight and secure – and, just as importantly, stop – dramatic policy changes. It provides leverage we must preserve.

Unfortunately, most Senate Democrats have succumbed to short-sighted political calculations and are actively attempting to change the Senate's rules by abolishing the filibuster to jam through their legislative priorities. Under the current rules, three-fifths of the Senate – or 60 senators – must agree on opening or ending debate on bills.

A tool that helps prevent radical, swift legislative changes that would sow confusion and uncertainty is invaluable. As such, I intend to continue protecting it.

My colleagues on the other side of the aisle, with a few exceptions, are now abandoning their previous support for the filibuster which, while in the minority, they argued was indispensable. Even President Biden, who enjoyed a long career in the Senate and exercised his right to stop or hamper legislation and nominees he had concerns with, has decided his decades-long embrace of the filibuster is no match for the loudest voices in his party demanding to discard it.

The justifications all point in one direction: keeping power.

Today, the Biden administration and Senate Democrats believe a supposed threat to our democracy requires abandoning the minority party's ability to pump the brakes on the excesses of one-party control in Washington. Worse, the grave threat to the fabric of our society and experiment in self-government they are touting amounts to nothing more than duly-elected state legislatures reining in some of the most overly-accommodating voting policies that were enacted during the COVID-19 pandemic. An existential threat to America, this is not.

The greatest irony by far in this entire saga is the fact that the man leading this charge today, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), shoulders much of the blame for wrecking the Senate's norms in the modern era after he spearheaded novel partisan filibusters of judicial nominees during the George W. Bush administration.

Prior to Schumer's crusade against lower court appointments, the tool was rarely used against nominees to the federal bench. When Republicans threatened to retaliate against these guerilla tactics, Schumer predicted such a move would be a "doomsday for democracy" and punctuate our country's transformation into a banana republic. Today, the majority leader is singing quite a different tune when it comes to tinkering with long-standing Senate rules to achieve partisan ends.

But fortunately for the Senate and our country, Republicans are standing strong against this farce with the vocal backing of two of our Democratic colleagues, Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ). The rhetoric around this issue continues to ratchet up in the hopes that enough public pressure will cause them to yield, paving the path for Schumer to invoke the so-called "nuclear option" and change or outright abolish the legislative filibuster, allowing bills to be moved by simple-majority votes.

Should the Senate go down that path, it will result in exceedingly scorched earth where consensus is even harder to find and shifting majorities implement drastic policy transformations when a president is willing to rubber stamp what Congress approves.

I have opposed this ill-advised tactic in the face of opposition from my own side of the aisle in the past, and Arkansans can be assured Sen. Tom Cotton and I will not acquiesce now. Too much is at stake, including our state's ability to shape the contours of national debates.

That must not be squandered in such a reckless and heedless manner.


Print Headline: Preserving filibuster will protect Arkansas

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