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By Congressman Morgan Griffith

Congressman Griffith's Weekly E-Newsletter 11.4.16
By Congressman Morgan Griffith
 
Washington, DC (Nov. 4, 2016) -

Restore the Historic Filibuster

True or False: The American government is a majority-rule Republic based on democratic principles, as stated in the Constitution and taught in school. 

Maybe.  Maybe not.

In the U.S. Senate, this is currently false!  Due to the modern filibuster/cloture hold rules (hereinafter referred to as a filibuster), it takes a supermajority to even bring a bill up for debate.

Once dubbed the “greatest deliberative body in the world,” today’s Senate uses secretive, technical procedures to avoid deliberation and avoid tough votes. 

I know the House is not perfect, but I am working to change it.  In the current Congress, approximately 700 bills came out of the House and some 550 of those unattended bills died a lonely death in the dark and dusty Senate basement.

The filibuster was intended to provide a Senator with an emergency brake.  If an issue was important enough, a Senator could speak as long as they physically could manage, unless a supermajority ended the debate. 

However, the modern filibuster was established by rules changes in the 1970s.  The new rule allows any member to begin the filibuster process with a secret hold, with no physical presence.  Without a supermajority of 60 votes, the hold remains and the legislation dies.

In the meantime, the Senator performing the “filibuster” can head to their favorite steak house, attend a fancy fundraiser, or go home.

And legislatively, nothing is getting done.

I do not advocate eliminating the filibuster, but I do support a return to the historical process that existed prior to the 1970s, when a filibuster required the physical presence of a Senator. 

When the rule was first changed in the 1970s, it was not abused.  But starting in the late 1990s or early 2000s, both parties have abused the modern filibuster process.   It is my opinion that Senators in the 1970s tired of the required physical presence required to filibuster, and agreed to the new rules with an understanding that it wouldn’t be abused.  At first it wasn’t, but now it is routine to abuse the rule.

Under the historic filibuster rule, if a Senator feels strongly enough about an issue, she can pull the emergency brake, stand on the floor of the Senate, and tell the American people why this bill should not pass or even be voted on.

Picture the impassioned scene of Jimmy Stewart’s filibuster in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, of Ted Cruz reading Green Eggs and Ham for a filibuster to defund Obamacare, or Rand Paul and the #standwithRand hashtag to protest the Patriot Act. 

If a Senator is so passionate about an issue that they are willing to take the floor for hours or days, then it is appropriate to use the filibuster.

As I write, it is prior to Election Day and none of us know who will control the Senate after the election.  But whoever controls the Senate should eliminate the modern filibuster rule and return to the historic rule.

Restoring the historic filibuster rule will create more tough votes for legislators in both the House and Senate.  But, as lawmakers, we were elected to take tough votes.  If Democrats gain control of the Senate, they will pass bills I don’t like.  But the will of the voters must be done if we are to remain a Republic based on democratic principles.  It will be my job in the House to defeat the crazy measures the Senate might pass.  And if the voters don’t like what the Senate actually accomplishes, it will be their job to defeat those Senators, whether Republican or Democrat, in the next election.  More votes taken will give constituents the opportunity to know where their representatives stand and hold them accountable.

Whichever party is in control, I will continue to push this reform, because it is in keeping with principles upon which this country was founded.  Further, you can’t run a government with divided responsibilities, as is contemplated in a Republic, if one of the branches of government (in this case the Senate) barely functions.

The Founding Fathers never intended for the majority of the Senate’s business to be able to be blocked by a minority. 

Restoring the historic filibuster would be a huge step to restoring Congress’ ability to build consensus and compromise, reassert itself as a co-equal branch of government, and produce legislation the American people need, want, and deserve.

If you have questions, concerns, or comments, feel free to contact my office.  You can call my Abingdon office at 276-525-1405 or my Christiansburg office at 540-381-5671.  To reach my office via email, please visit my website at  www.morgangriffith.house.gov.  Also on my website is the latest material from my office, including information on votes recently taken on the floor of the House of Representatives.

 
 
 

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