Alexander: If You Get Rid of “Unlimited Debate and Unlimited Amendments . . . You Get Rid of the Senate”

“Themajority has a choice: do we ram it through or do we get consensus?” – Lamar Alexander

Posted on April 22, 2010

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) today made the following remarks in the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration, of which he is a member, during a hearing titled “Examining the Filibuster: History of the Filibuster 1789-2008”:

  • “The only thing different about the Senate is the almost absolute right to unlimited debate and unlimited amendments. If you get rid of that, you get rid of the Senate.”
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  • “President Lyndon Johnson called Republican leader Everett Dirksen every afternoon at 5 p.m. Not for any particular reason; that’s just the kind of relationship they had, even though Senator Dirksen had fewer Republican senators on his side than Senator McConnell has today. Now why did he do that? The civil rights bills provide an answer to that. I think it’s because the president needed not only to get bills passed, but, in 1964 and 1968, he needed to get the country to accept them. And we’ve seen with the health care debate that as soon as it’s passed by a bare majority, suddenly, all over the country there is a campaign to repeal it.  President Johnson, I think, wanted to avoid that.”
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  • “The majority has a choice: do we ram it through or do we get consensus? Alexis de Tocqueville wrote the book that most Americans think is the best book on the American democracy, and in it he saw two great threats down the road. One was Russia—he was awfully right about that. The other was what he called the ‘tyranny of the majority.’ He wondered how a purely democratic country would work, whether it would overrun the ideas of the minorities. And that’s why we have the United States Senate – to provide those checks and balances.”
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  • “I think we need to understand what James Madison meant when he talked about a necessary fence against the danger of passion in the country. Senator Byrd’s comments to new senators in 1996 come to mind: ‘Let us clearly understand one thing – the Constitution’s framers never intended the Senate to function like the House.’”