Weekly Column by Lamar Alexander: Fighting Harry Reid to Give Tennesseans a Voice

Posted on January 17, 2014

Tennesseans didn't send me to Washington to rubber-stamp the majority leader's ideas -- not this majority leader or any majority leader.  Tennesseans sent me here to represent them and to advocate their point of view and to give them a say on Obamacare, on balancing the budget, on growing the economy so the unemployed can find jobs, and so on.

Last year, the Senate Democratic majority invoked the so-called “nuclear option,” breaking the Senate rules in order to get rid of the filibuster for presidential nominations (except for Supreme Court nominees). That means President Obama’s nominees can ignore the questions and concerns that Republican senators raise – the questions Tennesseans sent me here to ask.

On Jan. 6, Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid brought up the issue of unemployment compensation. He followed last year’s raw exercise of partisan political power by bringing up legislation that hasn't been considered by a committee, and when he put it on the floor, he cut off amendments, debate, and votes.      

Serving in the Senate has become like being asked to join the Grand Ole Opry and not being allowed to sing. We should be debating the major issues facing our country; instead, the Senate is a one-man show, orchestrated by the White House.

I am sure Democrats don’t want to talk about Obamacare being one of the reasons so many people are unemployed. I wouldn't if I voted for it, but the Senate is the forum in which we debate these issues.

Reid is destroying the Senate, once described as “the one touch of authentic genius in the American political system.”

In their 2013 book, “The American Senate: An Insider’s History,” former Senate historian Richard A. Baker and the late Neil MacNeil say the principal source of this “genius” has been the opportunity for extended debate. If 60 of 100 senators must agree to end debate, usually this encourages consensus on crucial issues.

Our rules that require consensus building still work - if we let them. I think of the legislation I introduced that deals with the terrifying fungal meningitis outbreak that killed 16 Tennesseans and made many others sick. This legislation to make drugs safer went through the committee process, through both Houses, and eventually passed unanimously because we reached a consensus.

We govern a complex society with consensus, not by ramrodding partisan ideas through one body or the other. That is not the way to govern our country, particularly issues of fundamental importance like putting unemployed Americans back to work or reforming our nation’s health care system.

My hope is that Sen. Reid will recognize this and change his behavior. If he does not, I hope the American people take this into account when they cast their votes in November – and put six more Republicans in the Senate. Then we can restore this body to what the American people deserve and senators can present ideas on behalf of the people who elect us.