115th Congress, Congress, Senate

Senate GOP’s love affair with Senate process blocks Trump agenda

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The Senate is using “process” to avoid doing any work.

Image Credit: Brady-Handy Photograph Collection (Library of Congress) Public Domain

The President and the Republican majorities in the House and Senate ran on a platform in 2016 of Obamacare repeal and replace, tax reform, and border security. The President’s agenda is being held hostage by archaic Senate rules and traditions, with one tweet, President Trump sent shockwaves through the D.C. swamp on May 30.

“The U.S. Senate should switch to 51 votes, immediately, and get Healthcare and TAX CUTS approved, fast and easy. Dems would do it, no doubt!” Trump wrote.

Have 140 characters created so much turmoil in a swamp before?

Senate rules have one purpose, to avoid tough votes. If there is one thing a politician doesn’t like, it is a tough vote. Tough votes will appear on campaign literature in their primaries and the general election. Senators do not want to defend those votes, despite running on making that vote, in front of a town hall. The current healthcare legislative situation in the Senate, proves this. In late 2015, the Senate passed an Obamacare Repeal bill with 52 votes knowing it would be vetoed by President Obama. Now that the vote is for real, the Senate is scared to call the vote.

One rule and one tradition must be done away with for President Trump to move his agenda forward, the century-old Rule XXII, aka “cloture”, and the Senate blue slip, respectively.

The “silent” filibuster has long been the tool for a lazy Senate. The filibuster is a procedure where debate can continue indefinitely. The debate is had by one or more Senators, and used to delay or prevent legislation from moving forward. Think Mr. Smith goes to Washington. As long as the Senators opposed to the legislation or nomination can keep talking, the process does not move forward. This is known as “talking a bill to death”.

In 1917, the Senate adopted Rule XXII. Rule XXII is the “cloture” rule. The rule allows the Senate to end a filibuster with a two-thirds majority vote. The rule was later changed to a three-fifths majority vote in 1975. These rules were supposed to limit filibusters, but had the reverse effect. President Woodrow Wilson pushed the idea to stop gridlock within the Senate. Today, if the Senate cannot get 60 votes for legislation, they don’t even look at it. In that time, Republicans have never had a filibuster-proof majority.

If someone wants to filibuster legislation, make them muster up the support and speak for hours. This nonsense of saying we will filibuster without actually filibustering must stop. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) should make the Senators stand up for hours and talk if they really want to filibuster.

Former Majority Senator Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) fired the first shot in the filibuster wars. Reid changed the rule in November of 2013 to get several of President Obama’s judicial and executive appointments through the Senate.

Many Republicans saw this as their chance. All they had to do was get the majority and they could do the same thing. Under intense pressure from voters, the Senate used the “nuclear option” on April 6, 2017 to change the Senate rules to include Supreme Court nominees by confirming Justice Neil Gorsuch. The judicial filibuster may be gone, but the legislative filibuster still exists.

Senate “Blue Slips” are another  tool used to stop judicial nominations. A blue slip is an opinion from the Senators from the state a federal judicial nominee resides. The Senators will issue a negative, positive, or no opinion about the nominee. The opinions are taken and weighed by the Judiciary Committee. It is hard to know how much weight the slips carry, but previous administrations have picked judicial nominees based upon who will write the blue slip.

Democrats have signaled they plan on using the blue-slip to stifle the President’s judicial agenda. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) was quoted as saying “As long as we have the authority, we’ll use it if necessary.”

Americans for Limited Government President Rick Manning blasted the practice in a statement, asking, “Why should the failed Vice-Presidential nominee, Senator Tim Kaine, get to decide who goes on the courts from the Commonwealth of Virginia? Sen. Kaine had his chance, and he lost that in November. It is now President Trump’s job.” If the Democrats have become extreme obstructionists, it is time for the Republicans to push back and get the judicial agenda back on track. Republicans may not get this chance again.

And on the broader political agenda the GOP ran on in 2016, if Republicans wish to remain in control of the House and Senate after 2018, they should consider doing away with these agenda stopping rules and practices. The Democrat base is fired up and cannot wait to vote in the upcoming midterm election. By not getting anything out of the Senate, Republican leadership is giving their base a reason to not show up in 2018.

Do the Republicans want 2018 to come down to a fired up liberal base versus a dispirited conservative base that didn’t see any change? President Trump is right, it is time for the GOP to get rid of the 60-vote rule, and do what they were elected to do.

This is a guest post by Printus LeBlanc a contributing reporter at Americans for Limited Government.

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