Weekly Column by Lamar Alexander: “Without Senate Filibuster, Tennessee Can Kiss Its Right-to-Work Law Goodbye”

Posted on September 25, 2015

Republicans who want to abolish the filibuster in the U.S. Senate are Republicans with short memories.

The Senate’s 226-year tradition of extended debate was created to protect the minority from the tyranny of the majority, and for the last 70 years, most of the time Republicans have been the minority needing that protection.  

Since World War II, Democrats have controlled the presidency and both houses of Congress for 22 years; Republicans have had such complete control for only six years. During those 22 years, without a Senate filibuster, Democrats could have enacted any law they wanted.

To see what can happen when Democrats have complete control and Senate Republicans can’t filibuster, one has to look back only to 2009 and 2010: Because there were 60 Democratic senators, making a Republican filibuster futile, the country got Obamacare.   

This is because the so-called filibuster rule says that the Senate cannot vote on legislation until 60 of the 100 senators decide that it is time to end debate. When more than 40 senators want to continue debating and object to moving to a vote, that is called a “filibuster.” 

But let’s look to the future—to the possibility of a President Hillary Clinton and a Democrat majority in both houses and no Senate filibuster rule.

My prediction is that at the top of the Democrat agenda would be a federal law abolishing right-to-work laws in Tennessee and the 24 other states that have them. This is precisely what President Lyndon Johnson tried to do in 1965 and 1966. And what stopped him? A threatened filibuster by the Senate Republican Minority Leader Everett Dirksen.

You can make your own list of what else would be on the agenda if Democrats had complete control and there were no Senate filibuster. I would predict higher taxes, more gun control, fewer abortion restrictions, making every city a sanctuary city, “card check” instead of the secret ballot for union elections, and numerous other liberal laws.

The most important reason to keep the filibuster rule is that the country needs one legislative body that takes its time to think through an issue and try to develop a consensus. The House of Representatives is the nation’s sounding board. If the country is boiling, the House is boiling.

On the other hand, as George Washington told Thomas Jefferson, the Senate is the saucer into which hot tea is poured to cool. The Senate’s tradition of extended debate requires continuing debate until 60 senators decide that it is time to stop discussing and start voting.

That allows every senator to have a say. It encourages bipartisan consensus, which is the best way to govern a large, complex country such as the United States.

Republicans and conservatives who are thinking about abolishing the filibuster should think some more about how Obamacare became law.

They should think about what it would be like to live in the 25 states that now have right-to-work laws if Democrats gained the presidency and majorities in Congress and abolished those right-to-work laws because there was no Senate filibuster. 

Think about what might happen if Democrats again have complete control and Congress dances to the tune of the White House, and the Republican minority might have no filibuster to protect itself and this country from the tyranny of that Democrat majority.