According to John Dean, the Senate “is not yet an authoritarian body,” however, “This is not to say there is no authoritarianism in the Senate.” The Republicans are anxious “to extend their power in the Senate in a fashion similar to what they have in the House.” John points out that they “are oblivious to the fact that by doing so they would make the Senate into a mini-House of Representatives, thereby fundamentally changing the interaction between the inherently cautious Senate and the more impulsive House.”
The Senate’s transformation has been less dramatic than the House’s. One area of change is protection of minority views by preventing tyranny of the majority the filibuster. According to John Dean, “The first recorded occasion when a minority senator used extended debate to defeat a proposal was in 1790.” During the early 1800s, this “lengthy debate” technique became “something of a common procedure.” By 1856, the Senate formalized the procedure in the Senate’s rules. At FindLaw.com, John wrote this history summary:
In 1917, during the Presidency of Woodrow Wilson, the Senate adopted a rule permitting a “cloture vote” by a two-thirds supermajority of its members to end a filibuster.
Yet the Senate did not invoke cloture even once from 1927 until the early 1960s; each of its members wanted to keep the filibuster right himself, and thus did not want to impose a cloture vote on another member. In 1939, Jimmy Stewart’s portrayal of a heroic use of the filibuster in “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington” only decreased the public image of the cloture vote.
In the mid-1950s and early 1960s, however, it was the filibuster that became the villain. A few Southern Senators used it to prevent the passage of laws assuring African Americans the basic rights of education, the vote, decent housing and public facilities to which they were entitled.
Indeed, Southern Democrats tied up the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act with a seventy-four day filibuster, with newspapers and television covering the bigoted Southern intransigence. That was enough to outrage Americans everywhere, and change public attitudes about the filibuster.
With this public attitude change came another change to the Senate’s rules. According to the above FindLaw article, Senate majority leader Mike Mansfield introduced the “two-track” system: “The Senate is generally a collegial body – doing much of its business, of necessity, by ‘unanimous consent.’ Under Mansfield’s ‘two track’ system, the Senate agreed, by unanimous consent, to spend its mornings on the matter being filibustered, and the afternoon on other business.”
This “minority veto” requires a two-thirds supermajority, which the Republicans don’t currently have, to override it. Since the Senate is becoming more authoritarian as former members of the House move to the Senate, they are resorting to cheating through a parliamentary trick referred to as the “nuclear option.” The result would replace the supermajority with a simple majority, bring an end to the minority veto and the Senate would become a mini-House run by a few authoritarians.
For more on the filibuster, refer to The Filibuster, by Professors Catherine Fisk and Erwin Chemerinsky
Bill Frist – Served: 1994 to 2008, Majority leader since 2003 Family Background In 1968, Dr. Thomas F. Frist Sr. (father), Jack C. Massey and Dr. Thomas Frist, Jr. (brother) formed their own hospital management company – Hospital Corporation of America, today known simply as HCA. HCA is composed of locally managed facilities that include approximately 191 hospitals and 82 outpatient surgery centers in 23 states, England and Switzerland. Thomas Frist, Jr. – 451st richest person in the world. Came out of retirement to help revive the company during a lengthy Medicare-fraud investigation. Thomas Fearn Frist Sr. is widely recognized as the father of the modern for-profit hospital system. Authoritarian Traits From John Dean, “Frist is Richard Nixon with Bill Clinton’s brains, and Nixon was no mental slouch. Frist is without question a social dominator [authoritarian] … No one describes Bill Frist’s dominating personality better than Frist himself in his first book, Transplant: A Heart Surgeon’s Account of the Life-and-Death Dramas of the New Medicine.” In his book, Bill wrote that he could “hardly help but be a demanding little tyrant. … I ruled not just over my family but over my friends – or should I say subjects – who always opted to come to my house.” Under the trait of “manipulating to succeed” and “justifying his own conduct,” John Dean provided the following quote from Frist’s book relative to a medical project using cats and their hearts, “Desperate, obsessed with my work, I visited various animal shelters in the Boston suburbs, collecting cats, taking them home, treating them as pets for a few days, then carting them off to the lab to die in the interest of science ….” Infamous Deeds Led the Senate to the brink of destroying the minority veto (filibustering) with the nuclear option. On June 13, 2005, Frist sold his shares in HCA. This was just before HCA reported its earnings for the second quarter would not meet analyst expectations. The stock then dropped about 15 percent. Here is what he said on Terri Schiavo, “There seems to be insufficient information to conclude that Terri Schiavo is in a persistent vegetative state. I don’t see any justification in removing hydration and nutrition.” However, an autopsy showed that Terri was not only blind but her brain had atrophied to about half its expected size. From The Seattle Times, “Opposition to McCain and Graham was led by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., and members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, the National Security Council staff and White House lobbyists. Frist ultimately voted for the amendment.”