Opinion Pieces

Why We Must End The Abuse Of The Senate Filibuster

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Washington, May 2, 2017 | comments

Why We Must End The Abuse Of The Senate Filibuster
The Daily Caller
Rep. Brian Babin (R-TX)
May 2, 2017 | View Online

Every day in Washington since January 20, 2017 has been a day for the history books.  By executive order and the Congressional Review Act (which, of note, only requires a simple majority in the Senate), President Trump has been able to roll back significant regulatory overreach by his predecessor and replace it with common-sense principles that will allow our economy to grow and make our homeland safe.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said so far for most of our legislative agenda.  While there have been some exceptions, such as the bipartisan NASA bill that I worked on with Senator Cruz to get signed into law, many if not most of the initiatives President Trump (and those of us who supported him) promised the American People we would get done now face an uncertain future.

The Electoral College landslide that sent Donald Trump to the White House was in great part about stopping wasteful spending and programs that do not reflect our conservative values.  Unfortunately, as we have seen in the latest versions of the proposed government spending bills, very little has changed because the Senate refuses to change.  For example, the Democrat position of federal funding for Planned Parenthood but not a wall for the southern border has apparently prevailed.

Chief among the reasons for this inaction is what is commonly referred to as the filibuster, but the use of that term belies its true meaning.  In today’s Senate, the courageous “stand” against the Taylor political machine from Mr. Smith Goes to Washington it is not. Instead of having to remain on their feet and speak until they are no longer able to do so, a modern-day senator need only utter the words “I object”, then head out for an evening dinner or a fundraiser. The only way to overcome this essential pocket veto is for sixty senators to vote to invoke “cloture” and allow the bill to proceed for a straight up or down vote.  This essentially means that on a bill with unanimous Republican support in today’s Senate, at least eight Democrats must give their consent to allow the Senate to do the people’s business.

Be mindful, this arcane Senate procedure is not a law or a constitutional requirement, but simply a custom that has only been observed in its current form since 1975.  President Trump expressed the frustration many of us feel when he recently described the Senate rules as “archaic and slow-moving” and the chief reason why we are “forced to make deals that are not the deal you’d make” otherwise.

The House is ready and able to put a conservative, reform agenda on President Trump’s desk for him to sign into law.  But that won’t happen as long as we allow Senate practices to obstruct the work of our nation without end or consequence.  The American People have had enough of the Fake Filibuster.  The time has come for the Senate to allow the same rule change that allowed President Trump to install a first-class cabinet and Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch in the face of unprecedented obstruction: an up-or-down, simple majority voting process for all legislation.

Barring this change of the rules, I believe every Republican Senator, especially those who were elected on or claim to support President Trump’s conservative agenda, need to answer the following questions:

  • To unleash the power of the free market and bring down the cost of health insurance for American families, we need to pass legislation that allows insurance to be sold across state lines, tears down the exemption for insurers from anti-trust and monopoly laws, and removes the costly one-size-fits all mandates for services that customers don’t want or need.
    President Trump is ready to sign this legislation into law.  Do you want to tell the people of your state that it can’t happen because we need the permission of eight Democrat senators first?
  • To stop the flow of crime and drugs from South America, we need legislation to authorize and appropriate the funding for a wall across the southern border, as well the mechanism for Mexico to reimburse us for the cost of it.
    President Trump is ready to sign this legislation into law.  Do you want to tell the people of your state that it can’t happen because we need the permission of eight Democrat senators first?
  • To get our economy moving again, we need permanent tax reform legislation that lets American families keep more of what they earn and businesses use more of their money to hire more workers and increase take home pay, not to pay Uncle Sam.

President Trump has a plan for bold, pro-growth tax reform, but under the current rules of the Senate, it will either have to be watered down significantly or capped at ten years.  Do you want to tell the people of your state that permanent tax relief can’t happen because we need the permission of eight Democrat senators first?

Defenders of the status quo are quick to point out that the filibuster has led to some good outcomes in years past.  Specifically, they point to the failure by President Obama and the Democrat-controlled Congress in 2010 to get their left-wing, $1 trillion Cap and Trade national energy tax signed into law because they couldn’t get sixty votes.  While, I recognize these positive outcomes, they are outweighed by my faith in the electorate to exercise their right every two years to send a Congress to Washington to provide the consent of the governed.

Finally, in a country that values the separation of powers, it is understandable that most Senators do not take kindly to criticism of their rules and procedures.  But the fact remains that barring a change to the rules of the Senate, President Trump will not be able to carry out most of the mandate that sent him to the White House.  Senate inaction is standing in the way of the President’s plan of action.

The American People made a clear choice in 2016 to change course, but the archaic Senate rules act like a strong headwind instead of the tailwind we need. Until these rules are changed, President Trump’s conservative agenda will be blocked at every step.

At the present, Republicans hold the Senate majority by the slimmest of margins.  Were that to change, the Democrats have proven they would leap at this opportunity.  The Senate must change its rules before this precious window of opportunity given to us by the American people closes.

The time for action is now.

Congressman Brian Babin serves the people of Texas’s 36th district in the United States House of Representatives.

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