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Filibuster or Not, Divided Government Will Remain the Norm

David Callahan

Be careful what you wish for is good advice, and I'll be the first to admit that progressives may rue the day they celebrated historic changes to the Senate's filibuster rules.

Like when President Paul Ryan is packing the courts with pro-life judges in 2023. 

In fact, though, it would be wrong to have such regrets -- even if there are good political reasons down the line to want a super empowered Senate minority. It would be wrong for the same reasons that Republicans are wrong to condemn this move with such vehemence: Our system already has enough checks and balances to stop power grabs without hobbling the Senate.

Remember, the founders designed America's democracy to make such grabs difficult -- creating three branches of government, insulating Senators with six-year terms, limiting House members to two-year terms, giving the president veto power, requiring the states to approve changes to the Constitution (and, initially, to elect U.S. senators), and then adding the Bill of Rights on top of all that. 

The founders thought that phalanx of checks and balances was adequate even as they also imagined that cabinet and judicial appointments would be approved by a simple Senate majority. And they were right. 

But here's something else: The biggest proponents of restrained government have turned out to be the American people themselves, who have rarely let one political party have extended control over Washington. Any time one party has started to get too ensconced running both branches of government, they've promptly gotten the boot -- most recently in 2010. Same thing happened four years earlier. And twelve years before that, in 1994. Polls show that most Democrats don't favor one-party rule even when their guy is the White House; and vice versa. 

Americans' distrust of government is very high right now -- and has been for decades. As long as that's the case, don't worry: no overreaching majority will ever get far, at least not for long.