Government & Constitution

Nuclear option destroys the Senate

Nuclear option destroys the Senate

During the contentious Cold War era, the United States and the former Soviet Union operated on a theory of Mutually Assured Destruction. The Soviets were deterred from launching a first strike against the U.S., the thinking went, because they knew that the response would be immediate and devastating. We are facing a similar situation today in the United States Senate.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D.-Nev.) is threatening to launch a first strike against the core of the Senate’s standing rules – the filibuster.

If Reid fires that first shot, I promise to respond with my own rules change ideas that will expand the rights of all Senators to participate in the legislative process.

The Senate has long been a body that respects the rights of each individual Senator by allowing them to participate fully in extended debate and a free amendment process, regardless of whether they were in the majority or the minority.

Over the past few years, Senator Reid has used his power as Majority Leader to suffocate those two important traditions.  He has routinely taken actions to prevent rank-and-file members of the Senate from offering amendments to legislation; now, he is promising to attack the right of Senators to engage in extended debate by pushing a version of so-called “filibuster reform.”

If Reid launches this effort to break the rules to change the rules, the Senate will enter the functional equivalent of parliamentary nuclear winter for months to come. It will lead to even more divisive partisanship and ill will between colleagues.

What Senator Reid is doing is wrong. He is trying to break the explicit, longstanding rules of the Senate to revoke the procedural rights of all other Senators.

The Senate rules require 67 votes to shut down debate in order to change those rules. Senator Reid wants to change the rules by shutting down debate on a rules change with only 51 votes.  The theory is that the Senate is not a continuing body from Congress to Congress.  This is clearly wrong.

I will not need to be sworn into the Senate next year, because my six year term continues for another four years. My service to the Senate shall continue into a new Congress, because unlike the House of Representatives, the Senate is a continuing body. Our Founders intentionally designed the Senate to be very different from the House.

The Senate is not especially unique in this regard, either. Consider the Supreme Court—the traditional respect for precedent from decisions handed down throughout the Court’s history are not merely tossed aside when the Courts swears in new members. The presidency is also similar, as executive orders can continue from one presidency to the next.  Indeed, our Founders intended some of our government institutions to function as continuing bodies.

Back in April of 2005, Senator Reid agreed with me when he argued on the Senate floor that “to change a rule in the Senate rules to break a filibuster still requires 67 votes. You can’t do it with 60. You certainly can’t do it with 51.”

If the Majority Leader is going to push rules changes with a simple majority vote, I shall push some ideas of my own.

I pledge to fight back by proposing my own array of rules changes if Reid launches his first strike. I intend on offering a new rule to mandate that the budget be balanced each year.

Another idea I have is to offer a new rule making it virtually impossible for the Senate to consider a bill that violates the Bill of Rights. To use a recent example, under this new rule I would be empowered to raise a point of order against legislation allowing the indefinite detention of American citizens, as such a provision is in direct violation of the constitutional right to trial by jury.

If legislation restricing the rights of Americans to defend themselves with a firearm were to be introduced, I could raise a point of order forcing a two-thirds majority to approve that legislation.

These are merely a few ideas of the many I have been drafting up for Senate consideration next January.

Our Founders intended the Senate to be a body where legislation was slowed down and subject to improvement through extended debate and amendment. Reid’s proposed “reforms” would remove two of the most fundamental rights traditionally reserved to all Senators—to freely debate and amend legislation. I shall not stand for that.

The primary deterrent behind the theory of Mutually Assured Destruction was accepting that the very existence of both parties was at stake before any action was ever taken.

My hope is that Senate Majority Leader Reid stands down and works on a negotiated peace in the Senate.


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