Every enduring representative democracy by, of, and for the people operates a critical check & balance system between Executive, Legislative, & Judicial branches. This system is the magic of American democracy and the principal reason for American exceptionalism. The Constitution afforded a minority congressional party the power to filibuster (eg prevent a vote on) undesired legislation. The House amended its rules long ago to enable legislation to come to a vote. The Senate allowed filibusters until the advent of World War I. President Woodrow Wilson became so agitated on the endless debate that he stormed into the Senate chamber on March 4th, 1917 and demanded the Senate amend its debate rules to add a ‘cloture’, or closure to debate, with a 2/3d’s Senate vote. The rule passed and was later modified to require only 60 votes. The rule has endured 96 years until President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid decided today, November 21, 2013, to reduce the vote requirement to just 51 votes. Two elected leaders made the decision. They succeeded on a 52-48 vote, not even a 60 person vote. Three Democrat senators voted with the Republicans.
The US Senate has unique decision-making powers that demand a 60 person vote because of the impact these powers have in the function of government to serve the people. The powers include the right to ratify national treaties and the right to approve lifetime judicial appointments and executive branch leaders. Think about this: a President now has the power to ratify national treaties and make lifetime judicial appointments if his/her party has 50 Senate votes because his/her Vice President can exercise the tie-breaking vote. That is a unilateral and staggering consolidation of power in the Senate that our Founders did not intend. They created two legislative bodies to avoid precisely this kind of behavior. The House of Representatives does not have unilateral powers like the Senate. All House activity must also pass the Senate.
Single party, single Chamber changes to laws and rules that consolidate an important power (eg treaty ratifications and lifetime judicial appointments) in one Chamber and for one party gain undermines the Constitution and weakens our check & balance system. An objective observer surely must acknowledge these leaders have broken the spirit and intent of their solemn Oath of Office:
I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.
If you disagree, kindly comment how this rule change supports and defends the Constitution and our check and balance system? Why have majority parties with their President in power never changed the Cloture rule for political expediency through world wars, brutal recessions, and other times of national stress? The 60 vote rule serves its purpose to ensure balanced national treaties and lifetime judges.
Note: US Senate history of the Cloture rule.
US Senate History of Cloture Rule
President Woodrow Wilson on Cloture Rule