Alexander: Without Senate Filibuster, “You Can Kiss State Right-to-Work Laws Goodbye”

Says “the Senate’s tradition of extended debate protects the minority…and most of the time Republicans have been the minority needing that protection.”

Posted on September 21, 2015

Washington, D.C., Sept. 21 -- Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said today that “Republicans who want to abolish the filibuster in the United States Senate are Republicans with short memories.”

The senator, a former chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, said, “The Senate’s 226-year tradition of extended debate was created to protect the minority from the tyranny of the majority, and for the last 70 years, most of the time Republicans have been the minority needing that protection.  

“Since World War II, Democrats have controlled the presidency and both houses of Congress for 22 years; Republicans have had such complete control for only six years. During those 22 years, without a Senate filibuster, Democrats could have enacted any law they wanted.”

To get an idea of what could happen when Democrats have the presidency and control of Congress and Republicans do not have more than 40 votes to block a piece of legislation, Alexander pointed to 2009 and 2010 when “the country got Obamacare.”

He predicted that, if Hillary Clinton were president and there were Democrat majorities in both houses of Congress, at the top of the agenda would be a law to abolish the right-to-work law in 25 states. “Without a Senate filibuster,” he said, “you can kiss state right-to-work laws goodbye.”

Close behind that, he predicted, would come “higher taxes, more gun control, fewer abortion restrictions, making every city a sanctuary city, ‘card check’ instead of the secret ballot for union elections, and numerous other liberal laws.”

Following is the text of Sen. Alexander’s remarks today on the floor of the United States Senate:

Republicans who want to abolish the filibuster in the United States Senate are Republicans with short memories.

The Senate’s 226-year tradition of extended debate was created to protect the minority from the tyranny of the majority, and for the last 70 years, most of the time Republicans have been the minority needing that protection.  

Since World War II, Democrats have controlled the presidency and both houses of Congress for 22 years; Republicans have had such complete control for only six years.

During those 22 years, without a Senate filibuster, Democrats could have enacted any law they wanted.

To see what can happen when Democrats have complete control and Senate Republicans can’t filibuster, one has to look back only to 2009 and 2010.

Because there were 60 Democratic senators, making a Republican filibuster futile, the country got Obamacare.   

This is because the so-called filibuster rule says that the Senate cannot vote on legislation until 60 of the 100 senators decide that it is time to end debate. When more than 40 senators want to continue debating and object to moving to a vote, that is called a “filibuster.” 

Let’s look to the future, to the possibility of a President Hillary Clinton and a Democrat majority in both houses and no Senate filibuster rule.

My prediction is that at the top of the Democrat agenda would be a federal law abolishing right-to-work laws in the 25 states that have them. This is precisely what President Lyndon Johnson tried to do in 1965 and 1966.

What stopped him? A threatened filibuster by the Senate Republican Minority Leader Everett Dirksen.

You can make your own list of what else would be on the agenda if Democrats had complete control and there were no Senate filibuster. I would predict higher taxes, more gun control, fewer abortion restrictions, making every city a sanctuary city, “card check” instead of the secret ballot for union elections, and numerous other liberal laws.

The most important reason to keep the filibuster rule is that the country needs one legislative body that takes its time to think through an issue and try to develop a consensus. The House of Representatives is the nation’s sounding board. If the country is boiling, the House is boiling.

On the other hand, as George Washington told Thomas Jefferson, the Senate is the saucer into which hot tea is poured to cool. The Senate’s tradition of extended debate requires continuing debate until 60 senators decide that it is time to stop discussing and start voting.

That allows every senator to have a say. It encourages bipartisan consensus, which is the best way to govern a large, complex country such as the United States.

When both parties agree on a solution to a controversial issue—such as the civil rights laws of the 1960s—the country accepts the laws more easily. When the laws are jammed through by a partisan vote—as happened with Obamacare—the losers start the next day trying the repeal the law and the country is plunged into confusion.

There is one more serious problem with the current proposals to use the “nuclear option” to change the Senate rules. Senate rules require 67 votes to change the rules. 

If Republicans use the nuclear option, we would be operating in the same lawless fashion that Democrats did in 2013 when they used a mere majority vote to eliminate the filibuster for most presidential nominations.

The Democrats’ action in 2013 made little difference in how the Senate actually operates. By custom, nominations have almost always been decided by a majority vote. But the 2013 use of the nuclear option set a damaging precedent. As one dissenting Democrat senator said, a Senate that can change its rules anytime it wants by majority vote is a Senate without any rules.

How then can the country’s chief rule-making body earn respect for the rules it makes for 320 million Americans if we don’t follow our own rules?

And, unlike nominations, the opportunity for extended debate on legislation has existed since Thomas Jefferson wrote the Senate rules in 1789.

Of course, the current proposals to abolish the Senate filibuster would not change a thing in this Congress. President Obama could simply veto whatever he wanted. And, according to the U.S. Constitution, it takes 67 votes in the Senate to overturn a presidential veto.

It is true that both Democrats and Republicans have used the filibuster too often. There absolutely should be an up-or-down majority vote on the president’s Iran agreement and on the 12 appropriations bills, all of which are being blocked by Democrat filibusters.   

To solve this problem, some suggest eliminating the filibuster only in “some cases.” But who will decide which cases are “some cases”? 

If the minority decides, nothing has changed. If the majority decides, the minority is crushed. The only way to reduce the number of filibusters is by consensus and restraint by both parties.

In 1995, after Republicans elected majorities in both houses of Congress, a Democratic senator proposed abolishing the filibuster. Even though this would temporarily have seemed to benefit Republicans, every single Republican voted no.

House Republicans are often frustrated because legislation that runs through the House like a freight train slows down or grinds to a halt in the Senate.

But that was the system of checks and balances that our founders created. And sometimes the shoe is on the other foot.

This year the Senate has passed important legislation on a six-year highway bill, which is stalled in the House. 

Republicans and conservatives who are thinking about abolishing the filibuster should think some more about how Obamacare became law.

They should think about what it would be like to live in the 25 states that now have right-to-work laws if Democrats gained the presidency and majorities in Congress and abolished those right-to-work laws because there was no Senate filibuster. 

Think about what might happen if Democrats again have complete control and Congress dances to the tune of the White House, and the Republican minority might have no filibuster to protect itself and this country from the tyranny of that Democrat majority.    

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