OP-ED: The Senate must end the filibuster to break the legislative logjam
During the 2016 elections, President Trump and a majority of Congress campaigned on the promise to repeal ObamaCare and implement pro-growth economic policies. From the start of the 115th Congress in January, the House of Representatives and the Senate have been spinning in circles trying to uphold those promises. Despite efforts, we have not yet succeeded. What is stopping us? The Senate’s 60-vote requirement to end a filibuster.
Many Americans are familiar with the filibuster from the classic Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, where a newly-minted U.S. senator uses the filibuster to fight against a crooked, backroom scheme. Like in the movie, the filibuster has been successfully used throughout history to prevent consideration of controversial legislation. But today, the Senate’s rule to overcome the filibuster has the detrimental effect of preventing consideration of nearly all legislation.
Just take our current situation for illustration. Since January, the House has passed over 250 bills. Many of these are important reforms and central to our agenda, such as Dodd-Frank repeal and improvements to border security. These bills are dead-on-arrival in the Senate, where they will likely languish until the end of the term. Knowing this would be the case with ObamaCare repeal, Congress unsuccessfully attempted to use a tool known as “reconciliation” that requires only 51 votes in the Senate, but that restricts our desired outcome.
This year’s policy battles highlight our dilemma. We are left with three options for future legislation. The first is producing the best policy for the country and knowing that it will not garner 60 votes in the Senate. The second is producing a weak bill in hopes that we can get the votes in the Senate to pass the legislation. Finally, the third is manipulating the process with ‘reconciliation’ to pass legislation in the Senate with 51 votes. The current abuse of the 60-vote rule will impede our ability to achieve any of the policy promises we made to America.
So what can be done about it? Well, the Senate can change the rule. Many people do not realize that the 60-vote requirement is not mentioned or even rooted in the U.S. Constitution. Instead, it originated in 1917, when the Senate agreed that debate could be cut off with a two-thirds majority vote. Decades later, when deciding a two-thirds vote was difficult to achieve, the Senate reduced the number of required vote to three-fifths, or 60 of the current one hundred senators.
In 2013, amid frustration over their inability to confirm President Obama’s nominations, Democrats further reformed the rule. Arguing that a change was necessary to fix a broken system, Democrats lowered the threshold to confirm federal judicial nominees and executive-office appointments from 60 votes to a simple majority. To quote then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), “the American people believe the Senate is broken, and I believe the American people are right. It’s time to get the Senate working again.” I cannot think of another time I have agreed with Sen. Reid’s sentiments, and his thoughts on the rule still ring true today.
There is a time and a place for rules and traditions, but not when the they obstruct the will of the people. It is not noble to the American people for the U.S. Senate to have some gentleman’s agreement to keep bills from being voted on or dilute our representation. Americans would rather that Congress pass just and reasonable laws than to preserve extra-constitutional, institutional traditions.
This Congress will run out of time to keep its promises to the American people. There are no excuses to allow this failure. Let’s do the right thing and eliminate the 60-vote rule.
Biggs represents Arizona's 5th District.