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Time for McConnell to Go Nuclear on Legislation

Tuesday, May 2, 2017 @ 2:49 PM
Time for McConnell to Go Nuclear on Legislation Walker Wildmon Assistant to the President MORE

Arguably, Washington is more divided and contentious today than any time in our nation’s history.  Issues that once drew bipartisan support have become as partisan as can be.  For example, Senate confirmation of Supreme Court nominees has traditionally happened in a fairly smooth manner. There are a few examples in modern American history of partisan battles over the Supreme Court nominees like Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas but traditionally, presidents usually get who they nominate with relative ease.  Yet the most recent addition to the Supreme Court, Neil Gorsuch only garnered three votes from Senate Democrats.   

Presidential cabinet appointments also have been traditionally a rather small hurdle due to bipartisanship.  Usually those positions are all confirmed within a couple weeks of a president’s inauguration. Yet here we are in 2017 three months past inauguration day and President Trump is just now filing the last empty seat in his cabinet. This is due to partisan delay tactics by Democrats.  How can Republican leaders stop these partisan roadblocks and begin to get things done for the American people? It seems the only solution is for the Senate to go “nuclear” on all legislation. 

Mitch McConnell and the Senate need to get rid of what I call the “fake filibuster.” Prior to 1975, U.S. Senate rules allowed for a real filibuster that enabled Senators to have endless debate on a bill. Often, this was done in order to prevent a vote on a bill a Senator(s) opposed, but in 1975 the Senate modified the filibuster rule. The new rule, known as the cloture rule, made it possible to end the filibuster if 60 Senators voted to end the debate making possible the Senate to vote on final passage of a bill. If the Senate fails to achieve the 60 vote threshold, then the minority opposing the bill can continue the filibuster and prevent the bill from coming up for a vote.

Currently, Senate Republicans only represent 52 of the Senate’s 100 members. This means Senate Republicans lack the 60 votes to end a Democratic filibuster. All that Democrats have to do to prevent a bill from coming up is to threaten a filibuster. This threat to filibuster a bill is enough to keep Senate majority leader, Sen. Mitch McConnell, from bringing a bill up for consideration. This threat of a filibuster is called the "fake filibuster.” It does not require any lawmaker to be speaking or actually filibustering. Rather it allows the minority to rule by the threat of a filibuster.

In order for Senate Republicans to end the “fake filibuster" and advance legislation, either Senate Republicans have to convince eight Democrats to support conservative legislation (which is highly unlikely) or use a Senate parliamentary procedure requiring only a majority vote on legislation. The second option is called the nuclear option which Senate Republicans also used to confirm Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.

Don’t get me wrong, I like the idea of unlimited debate. The traditional filibuster is a form of unlimited debate sometimes also serving as a stall tactic to avoid voting on a bill. I’m not necessarily against this. I’d like for the Senate rules to give each Senator a certain amount of floor time to speak on a bill. I’d also like some of the bill’s sponsor and co-sponsors to be required to answer questions during the debate.  Each Senator can choose what he or she does with that time. They can refuse to speak in which the Senate would move on to the next lawmaker, they can question the bill’s supporters or they can donate their microphone time to another individual. No silent floor time during the debate session. Either Senator uses their allotted time to debate or move on to a vote. Once all Senators have been given an opportunity to speak then there would be the official vote on the bill.

What I’m against is one lawmaker who objects to a bill, being able to table that legislation and the only way to bring it up again for a vote is to get sixty Senators on board. In Washington today getting sixty Senators to agree on anything is nearly impossible.

If Mitch McConnell and the Senate Republicans would go “nuclear” on all legislation they would then only need a simple majority to pass legislation. This would avoid obstructionism wherein the only goal is to oppose everything from Republicans in Congress and the White House.  The best interests of the American people are being shelved in favor of sticking it to those across the aisle.  Consequently, nothing is getting done in Washington and America languishes.

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