The Senate's Choice
THE SENATE’S CHOICE
September 7, 2017
Two weeks after the 2016 election, I spoke on the House floor and warned that the greatest single obstacle to meeting the expectations of the American people was the cloture rule in the Senate. I said: “Voters elected Republican majorities in both houses of Congress and they expect action. They’ll get it from the President and from the House. But in order for the Senate to rise to this occasion, it must reform its cloture rule when it organizes in January.” It didn’t.
Cloture is the Senate motion to conclude debate, and it is based on a sound parliamentary principle: as long as a significant minority – currently 40 Senate members – want to continue debate, that debate should continue. But this principle assumes it is an actual debate between real people regarding the merits of the subject directly at hand.
But that is not what cloture has become. Today, any Senator can block virtually any bill simply by filing a protest at the desk, and until 60 of the 100 Senators agree to take up the bill, it cannot be heard.
Ironically, a motion originally designed to protect debate has degenerated into a motion that very effectively prevents debate.
It also hands practical control of the Senate to the Democratic minority, which can effectively veto any proposal by the majority, essentially reversing the result of the election.
This is not some act of God or constitutional constraint that has been forced upon the Senate. No, this is a deliberate choice by Senate Republicans NOT to reform their cloture rule. It has rendered the Senate dysfunctional, and with it, the Congress.
Earlier this year, the Senate briefly recognized this and chose to reform cloture for Supreme Court nominations -- but not for legislation absolutely vital to the interests of our country.
The news yesterday that the President has capitulated to Democratic demands on the debt limit should come as no surprise. This became inevitable when Senate Republicans turned over control of the Senate to Chuck Schumer by failing to reform cloture.
That is how we got wrapped around the axle on repealing and replacing Obamacare. The House could have passed a comprehensive bill that completely and cleanly abolished Obamacare and fully replaced it with all the market and tax reforms that Republicans agreed with and campaigned on – popular reforms that put consumers back in charge of their health care decisions and placed those decisions within their financial reach.
Instead, the House leadership chose to attempt this through a budget process called reconciliation – a process completely unsuited for complex policy reform. They did so for one reason: to bypass the Senate cloture rule. By adhering to the very limited and restricted requirements of budget reconciliation, the House produced a mangled, tangled mess that fell well short of the reforms we had promised and ultimately failed to receive even a simple majority of the Senate.
Those who supported this process argued that a clean, complete, comprehensive bill would have been dead on arrival in the Senate for lack of Democratic votes for cloture.
I doubt that. Quite the contrary, had the House done its job through regular order – rather than try to cover for the Senate Republicans’ bad choice – one of two things would have happened.
As Obamacare continued to implode, Senate Democrats would have been seen as the single obstacle to a popular, comprehensive reform. It’s entirely possible that eight of the most vulnerable Democrats would ultimately have crossed party lines and supported this rescue of our health care system.
Or, far more likely, Senate Republicans would have been forced to come to the same conclusion that they came to with respect to the Supreme Court nomination of Neil Gorsuch and reform this rule.
Certainly, we couldn’t have been worse off than we are today.
I ask that henceforth, the House leadership stop covering for the Senate Republicans, and move all the legislation we promised the American people to the Senate through regular order. It is time we left the management of the Senate to the Senate, stopped enabling their atrocious judgment on not reforming cloture and made very clear to the American public why the reforms they entrusted us to enact aren’t being sent to the President.
Senator Dirksen once noted, “When they feel the heat, they see the light.” It’s time the House – and the American people – adopted this maxim.