Rep. Salmon: Fix The Filibuster

Rand Paul
Senate TV via AP

The United States Senate is replete with long and storied traditions. Since only one-third of the chamber is elected every two years, the rules of the Senate continue in perpetuity unless, for some well-debated reason, a major upheaval is demanded by the majority.

This is one of those times.

The modern day filibuster is an institution which is reminiscent more of the former Soviet Union than Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Sadly, far too few understand the destruction this has wrought on American politics.

As a Member of the House of Representatives, I vote on countless pieces of legislation that never see action in the Senate. In 2015 alone, we’ve taken over 500 votes. The Senate has taken 269; many of them repeated votes to attempt to overcome filibusters.

Traditionally, a filibuster (also known as a “talking filibuster”) meant that a Senator would have to stand on the floor and speak on any topic for as long as they were physically able. The goal was to waste time and in so doing force the Senate to end the debate on that topic. While they were afforded unlimited time, the constraints of the body meant that the duration of the filibuster would never exceed more than a matter of hours. J. Strom Thurmond still holds the Senate record at just over a single day.

Changes occurred over time, but in the 1970s, the Senate began a series of revisions to the rules creating the filibuster we recognize today. Current procedures simply treat the filibuster as an action which raises the threshold to proceed on legislation from a simple majority of the chamber to a three-fifths majority.

In today’s Congress, this practice blocks all legislation unless it meets with the approval of the minority party.  Rather than encourage debate, these rules force capitulation to the tyranny of a minority and shield Senators from having to reveal their controversial stances on the issues the American people care about.

The result of these changes has been the total breakdown of the legislative process. Now, with the minority refusing to even allow a vote on important pieces of legislation like appropriations bills and the President’s nuclear deal with Iran, we’re yet again confronted with the catastrophic results of a rule that has been hijacked over time.

For our legislative process to survive, the Senate must modify its rules to require a simple majority vote threshold of 51 senators to approve legislation. Time and again, both chambers have updated their rules to best suit the needs of the United States of America and her citizens.

Today, citizens all over our nation are demanding this change.

To those who find the revision of the Senate rules to preclude the possibility of a filibuster objectionable, we have another option. We could also end the gentleman’s agreement that permits the “virtual filibuster” (where Senators can stall legislation without any exertion from the comfort of their offices) and mandate that any Senator wishing to challenge a bill physically stand on the floor and address the Senate. Senators Ted Cruz and Rand Paul have shown that Senators still possess the ability to do so and, more importantly, these filibusters have afforded the American people the ability to hear and discuss the issues they raised, which is a fundamental part of our nation’s government.

While the House works to pass other important legislation and advance conservative principles that will keep America strong and safe, it is clear that we cannot affect the change our country requires alone.

The recent elections that increased the Republican majority in the House and made Republicans the majority in the Senate are a direct reflection of the American people’s desire for the Senate to join with the House in the fight against this Administration and its increasingly onerous and divisive policies.

By returning the filibuster to its constrained, diplomatic roots, we will not only ensure that the will of the people is heard, but that Congress is better equipped to address the difficult policy decisions that face our nation today.