Extension of Morning Businessby Senator Lamar Alexander
Posted on 2013-01-24
ALEXANDER. Mr. President, I wish to thank Senator Levin for his
leadership, as well as Senator McCain, Senators Schumer, Cardin, Pryor,
and Senator Kyl--who has now retired from the Senate--and Senator
Barrasso. We are hopeful the leaders will be able to recommend to us a
set of changes in our rules and procedures and practices that will help
the Senate operate in a fairer and more efficient way. That is what all
of us want. It is surprising how many of us want that.
We all worked pretty hard to get here. We all understand we are political accidents. The Senator from Maine, the Senator from Arkansas--we all know that. We are very fortunate to be here. While we are here, we would like to contribute something. That gets down to a couple things. Let's make it easy for a committee bill to come to the floor, and let's make it easier for Senators from the various States and from various points of view to have their say. Allow them to offer their amendment and have it voted up or down and to have a final vote. That is all.
I often use the analogy of the Grand Ole Opry. A person is lucky to be on the Grand Ole Opry. If you are there, you want to sing. Sometimes being in the Senate has been like being in the Grand Ole Opry and not being able to sing. We have all done the finger-pointing. The Democrats--the majority--say: You Republicans are filibustering. You are blocking things and keeping things from happening.
What we are saying is the majority leader has used the gag rule 69 times. Senator Daschle only used it once. What the eight of us found very quickly when we sat down in the first meeting a few weeks ago was that we were of the same mind. We honored this institution and we believe our country has serious problems. We want to get to those problems, and we want to serve our country well in the position we have.
If we are from Michigan, we want to be able to offer the voices of Michigan [[Page S265]] on the floor of the Senate. If we are from Nashville or the mountains of Tennessee or Maine, we want to be able to do the same. We want our voices heard--not our voices but the voices of the people whom we represent. That is the importance of the discussion we are having today.
My hope is the majority leader and the Republican leader--and I congratulate them for sort of sticking their necks out in their respective conferences--recommend a way that we can do two things: make it easier for bills to come to the floor and make it easier for Senators to get their amendments in. I believe if that happens, this Senate will see a new day.
On this side of the aisle, we believe we don't need rules changes; that we just need a change in behavior. On the other side of the aisle, there are those who say: Let's get rid of the filibuster. I think once we get back into what we call regular order, all that talk will go away. I think Senator Mikulski and Senator Shelby are going to have 10 or 11 or 12 appropriations bills ready to come to the floor within a few weeks, and I think they are going to want them to be considered by this body. If they do, we will be busy for 8 or 10 weeks and we will have dozens of amendments. I heard the chairman of the Budget Committee say she intended to have a budget and, if she does, we will have dozens of amendments. Then the voices of the people of this country will be heard here on the floor of the U.S. Senate. We will have votes, we will have amendments, and we will be doing our job, and all of this talk we are having right now will be pushed into the background.
There is a reason for a Senate that is different than the House of Representatives. It goes all the way back to the founding of our country. It was noticed by the first observers of our country. Alexis de Tocqueville, in his fascinating view of America in ``Democracy in America'' which he wrote in the early part of the 19th century, said America faced two great challenges. One was Russia. The other one was the tyranny of the majority. This is a democracy. This is a majority rules country. But he saw in a great, big, complex country the danger of the tyranny of the majority. And this institution, the U.S. Senate, has from the beginning of the country protected the minority and protected the unpopular view. If a Senator didn't like the Vietnam war, he or she could stand up and say something here and maybe do something about it. Or if a Senator was on the other side, maybe he or she could do something about it. They could make people slow down and stop and think before the country rushes ahead.
Senators of both parties eloquently, as Senator Levin has pointed out, have defended that right. We Republicans in the Bush administration were so upset about the Democrats' blocking of judges that we said we might use the nuclear option, that we might turn this into a majority body. Now there are a number of Democrats who feel the same way here. I hope we put that away and realize that this is the body that stands up for minority views in this country and says, don't run over minorities. Stop and think. Stop and think before you do that. Then we forge a consensus.
To conclude my remarks--because I see the Senator from Arkansas, who has been an outstanding contributor to this effort, as he has been through his time in the Senate--I came to the Senate as a young staff aide in 1967. That was a long time ago. I saw a little bit of how important it is to have a body that gains a consensus when we are talking about a big, difficult issue for the whole country. In 1967, the issue was civil rights. The Senator from Maine knows about those early days in the Senate. The Senator from Michigan does as well. There were a minority of Republicans at that time. Everett Dirksen was the Republican leader. But the civil rights bill of 1968 was written in the Republican leader's office. Why? Because at that time they had to get 67 votes to pass it.
One might say, Well, that shows what is wrong with the Senate, because it slowed things down. But looking back over history, those last 8 or 10 years of civil rights laws, the Voting Rights Act, eventually all of the laws that changed our country and continue to change it, were big steps. And what happened in 1968 once the Senate gained a consensus on civil rights? Senator Russell, who led the opposition to the civil rights bill through his whole career, got on the airplane, went home to Georgia and said, It is the law of the land. Now we obey it.
So the value of having a body in our government that respects the minority and forces a consensus is that once we reach that consensus-- once we reach it--we then have a better chance of having the country behind what we do on the very controversial and difficult issues we face.
So if this works out as I hope it does today, I pledge my part to work with the majority, as one Senator, to help make sure bills come to the floor, and to work with Republican Senators in the minority to help make sure they get their amendments. If we do, I think we will do our job better, we will gain more respect, the country will have a stronger government, and the rights of the minority will be protected.
I thank Senator Levin for his leadership, as well as Senator Pryor and the others with whom I have worked.
I yield the floor.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Arkansas.
Mr. PRYOR. Mr. President, I wish to thank Senator Levin and Senator Alexander for their kind comments about me. The Senator from Tennessee and I came to the U.S. Senate at the same time. That was 10 years ago.
One of the things I think everyone would agree with is we have seen over the last 10 years a waning of effectiveness in the Senate. A large part of that is the fact that this floor is not used as it should be. This floor has been used to block and obstruct. Both parties are guilty of that. This floor should be the marketplace of ideas. It should be where we come together and we work to resolve our differences. Our differences may be partisan, they may be regional, they may be philosophical, they may be generational, whatever, but our Founding Fathers set up our system of government where there would be one place where difficult, complex, thorny, even sometimes politically treacherous issues can be resolved, and that is on the floor of the U.S. Senate.
When we, again Democrats and Republicans, abuse the rules around here and we stymie the Senate from acting, we get gridlock, and gridlock is not good for the country. I firmly believe one of the reasons the American public is so disgusted with Congress right now is because of the things that are happening and not happening on this floor.
When we think about our system of government and when our Founding Fathers set it up, of course we have the three branches, but as a practical matter, the floor, right here, is the only place in our government where the American people--the people we represent--can actually see their law being made. Americans don't see law being made at the White House. They go out there and they huddle up in their conference rooms and they come out to the Rose Garden and they make the announcement. We never see the process. We don't see the process in the U.S. Supreme Court or in the courts of appeals. What happens there is the lawyers and the parties come in and make their cases and then the Justices and judges go back and conference and they talk about it back in their chambers, and they come out with their decision, and that is what we have. We don't always know what the deliberations are. We don't know all the considerations. The same thing in the U.S. House of Representatives, with all due respect to our other Chamber down the hall. Because of the way their rules operate, because of the Rules Committee and the way it is structured and their history and, quite frankly, their DNA, it is a majoritarian body. But not the U.S. Senate. In the Senate we allow Senators to amend and debate and to vote. That has been one of the problems here in the last 10 years. The Senator from Tennessee--and I see the Senator from Texas on the floor--we all came in together. This Senate has lost a lot of ability to do that.
I am firmly convinced we have sufficient verbiage in rule XXII of the Senate Rules to require a talking filibuster. I think that is critically important. It is not a new interpretation, but it is utilizing the existing interpretations, the longstanding history of the Senate, based on parliamentary decisions, based on decades of things that [[Page S266]] have happened here on the floor, where we have the authority already in rule XXII. But we have asked our two leaders to clarify and state and notify all of us how we are going to handle issues during this Congress. The way we are going to handle it when it comes to the talking filibuster is we are going to require Senators to be here to object. No more phone-in filibusters. We are going to require Senators to come down and state their objections, to come down and actually speak. If they have a problem with moving forward, they need to come and speak about it. If they want to start a filibuster, they should be here to speak on the floor. What is going to happen is the majority of Senators who want to see legislation get done may have to do a little work and be here late nights, but that is part of it. That is what we signed up for. It is like the Senator from Tennessee said a few moments ago. We all worked very hard to get here, and we came here to work for the country. If we are ever going to have a chance of resolving the big and difficult issues that face our Nation--issues such as our debt and deficit; issues such as the fiscal cliff; a whole set of issues including tax reform, entitlement reform--we can bet our last dollar those things are going to happen in the Senate. That is where things get done.
The fiscal cliff, with all due respect to the House, didn't happen in the House, it happened in the Senate. The minority leader and the Vice President worked it out. That is the way things have always gotten done, for the most part, in American history, and that is the way we need to allow things to get done in this Congress, because we have too many big issues to block everything that is coming through on the Senate floor.
Again, I wish to thank Senator Levin and Senator McCain for leading this effort. They are great leaders. I thank Senator Kyl, Senator Barrasso, Senator Alexander. Participating in those meetings with my Republican colleagues was a great experience, to listen to them, listen to their concerns. I think it was an education for all the Democrats to have that quality time where we did listen and then they listened to us. I think that was very important. We need to do more of that around here. We will get a lot more done if we do.
Also, our Democratic colleagues, of course led by Senator Levin, Senator Schumer, and Senator Cardin, everybody contributed, and I think it is something we should be proud of and it is also a great victory for bipartisanship. It is a great victory for bipartisanship. I think that is what the American people are screaming out for: for us to work together to get things done, and this is a good example of that.