'Utterly bereft of reasoning': Analysis delivers point-by-point rebuttal of Mitt Romney’s filibuster defense

'Utterly bereft of reasoning': Analysis delivers point-by-point rebuttal of Mitt Romney’s filibuster defense
Mitt Romney speaking at the 2012 Conservative Political Action Conference, Mark Taylor

Sen. Mitt Romney's (R-Utah) recent Washington Post op-ed in defense of the Senate filibuster has prompted a number of responses arguing why it needs to be eradicated. In a new piece in New York Magazine, Jonathan Chait delivers a point-by-point rebuttal of each of Romney's points to explain how "utterly bereft of reasoning his case is."

In his op-ed, Romney began with a reference to the historical aspects of the filibuster:

The United States Senate is one of our vital democratic institutions. Since shortly after our nation's founding, a single senator has been permitted to speak indefinitely, delaying and possibly impairing legislation favored by the majority, even if that senator were in the minority.

Chait explains how Romney's language leaves out important context regarding the filibuster's origin.

"'Shortly after our nation's founding' associates the filibuster with the founding while eliding the inconvenient fact that the Founders considered, and explicitly rejected, a routine supermajority requirement for Congress," Chait writes. "'Permitted to speak indefinitely' implies the filibuster allows extended debate, when, in fact, in its modern form, it is primarily used to prevent debate from beginning in the first place. (Have you seen the Senate debating the Democrats' voting reforms? No, you haven't.)"

Romney went on to point out how the Senate differs from other bodies of government:

The power given to the minority and the resulting requirement for political consensus are among the Senate's defining features.

Note that in our federal government, empowerment of the minority is established in just one institution: the Senate. The majority decides in the House; the majority decides in the Supreme Court; and the president is a majority of one. Only in the Senate does the minority restrain the power of the majority.

According to Chait, the obvious exception where the filibuster is concerned is exactly what Romney pointed out: the fact that it is "absent in other parts of the federal government, but it's also absent in any state government."

"For that matter, there is no routine supermajority in the design of any other democratic government in the world," Chait adds.

The New York Magazine reporter also takes exception with Romney's concern that the filibuster protects Americans from uncertainty and unpredictability. In the Post, Romney wrote:

Consider how different the Senate would be without the filibuster. Whenever one party replaced the other as the majority, tax and spending priorities, safety net programs, national security policy and cultural interests would careen from one extreme to the other, creating uncertainty and unpredictability for families, employers and our partners around the world.

While it is true that abolishing the filibuster could lead to abrupt legislative changes when the opposing party takes control of the government, Chait argues the same issue does not appear to "plague" state legislatures that lack the filibuster.

"If Romney is correct, then this erratic ping-ponging would plague the 50 state governments and all our democratic peers," Chait notes. "You would think some of these states and foreign democracies, hampered by this feature of majority rule, would look enviously at the U.S. federal government and seek to copy its unique supermajority requirement."

But, according to Chait, the Republican lawmaker's "most astonishing claim" is that he insists "any legislation lacking bipartisan support is inherently bad."

Romney wrote:

Anytime [sic] legislation is crafted and sponsored exclusively by one party, it is obviously an unserious partisan effort aimed at messaging and energizing that party's base. Any serious legislative effort is negotiated and sponsored by both parties.

Chait offers his rebuttal of Romney's claim, arguing: "If filibuster advocates had any cogent fact-based arguments, their polemics wouldn't routinely be filled with factual errors and non sequiturs. They consistently make bad arguments because they lack any decent ones."

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