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Courtesy Wikipedia.org

As a con­gressman, Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif., is accus­tomed to brevity in speech. But when it comes to reforming the modern fil­i­buster, he has a lot to say.

McClintock said the Senate needs to amend the way it takes up and debates leg­is­lation when he spoke at Hillsdale College’s Allan P. Kirby Center for Con­sti­tu­tional Studies and Cit­i­zenship in Wash­ington, D.C. on Wednesday.

“Delib­er­ation is not an end in itself,  it’s a means to an end,” he said. “That end is wise and enlightened leg­is­lation with the consent of the people. I believe the Senate is becoming dys­func­tional in this respect.”

Unlike the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives — of which McClintock is a part — the Senate is per­mitted unlimited debate on the bills that arrive on its floor. This notion derives from the belief expressed in the Fed­er­alist Papers that the Senate should be allowed to look at a par­ticular bill or issue from every dif­ferent angle so that it can better ensure the good of the nation.

According to the Senate website, sen­ators his­tor­i­cally have used unlimited debate to kill bills by deliv­ering fil­i­busters — long speeches and debates by the minority designed to wear down the will of the majority. But fol­lowing a fil­i­buster against the Treaty of Ver­sailles in 1919, the Senate adopted of cloture, the ability to kill dis­cussion of a bill with a two thirds majority vote. Fil­i­bus­tering remained an effective way to block leg­is­lation, but it since it required the strenuous effort of standing and speaking on the Senate floor — the longest fil­i­buster speech was 24 hours and 18 minutes — it was rarely used.

Fil­i­bus­tering became much more common in the 1970s, when the Senate intro­duced the two-track fil­i­buster, which allows the Senate to bypass dis­cussion on any bill that has even been threatened with a fil­i­buster.

McClintock said the intro­duction of the two-track fil­i­buster has cor­roded the Senate’s ability to delib­erate as was intended in the Con­sti­tution.

“Actual speech is no longer required to block a vote because now, the mere threat of a fil­i­buster is suf­fi­cient enough to kill a bill in the Senate,” he said. “Iron­i­cally, a fixture designed to protect debate has mutated into one that very effec­tively pre­vents debate.”

According to McClintock, most tra­di­tional fil­i­busters are just pub­licity stunts now — he cited the example of senator Ted Cruz, R-Texas, whose 2013 fil­i­buster included reading Dr. Seuss’ children’s book “Green Eggs and Ham” to his daughters from the Senate floor.

McClintock said espe­cially in the Obama admin­is­tration, the Senate has become trapped in gridlock where it cannot debate coher­ently about any­thing more than mundane matters. In addition, McClintock said the com­ments of senator Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., on how his minority would block Pres­ident-elect Trump’s Supreme Court nom­inees are a direct result of how the modern fil­i­buster allows the Senate to lay aside bills and refuse to leg­islate.

“The vows of recent members of the Senate are as dis­turbing as they are credible,” McClintock said. “They’re credible because the modern Senate fil­i­buster has become a pow­erful tool for a political minority to block any mean­ingful leg­is­lation from being enacted or even con­sidered.”

McClintock said the Senate’s weakness has weakened the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives’ ability to leg­islate and has given the exec­utive office inor­dinate law­making power.

“It is not the role of the exec­utive to make laws and for the leg­islative branch to approve or veto them,” he said. “The leg­islative should make the laws and the exec­utive should approve or veto them.”

To reform the Senate, McClintock pro­posed the end of the two-track fil­i­buster and that all debate sur­rounding a bill be rel­evant to the bill. He also said he believes the senate should be allowed to fil­i­buster or invoke cloture before a bill has even been dis­cussed.

“Great debates should be had about debating great matters, but not great debates about whether to have great debates,” he said.

McClintock also said he would like to see motions to proceed with bills when they become unde­batable and that sen­ators be limited to two speeches with a two-hour time limit on any given issue.

Speakers like McClintock often come to the Kirby Center and speak to stu­dents and inter­ested members of the public on their areas of expertise.

Junior Morgan Brown­field, a pol­itics major par­tic­i­pating in Hillsdale’s Wash­ington Intern Program said McClintock gave her a new per­spective on the federal gov­ernment.

“It’s inter­esting when you study years of political theory and then see how that informs the debates that arise from its day-to-day oper­ation,” she said.

  • Kingcruiser

    It would be nice if the Senate was elected by the States as it was orig­i­nally done (not by popular vote). the House for the People, the Senate for the States. The more “Demo­c­ratic” we’ve become, the less American we seem to be. It’s sup­posed to be dif­ficult to pass con­tro­versial bills, but that was when both sides wanted a healthy America. As the Far Left’s vision is one-world com­munism is the opposite of a strong America, the two sides can’t even hold a debate on the dif­fer­ences. But history is no longer taught in schools. The Original Intent on the Con­sti­tution, if men­tioned at all, was to pre­serve slavery when the truth is the opposite. The 2/3rds of a person would, over time, destroy slavery all by itself. The War Between the States was not a Civil War, the South never tried to rule the North. And “Fed­er­alist Papers”? I don’t think even the teachers have heard of them, much less ever read them. Our last “Pro­fessor of the Con­sti­tution” Pres­ident sure had a funny way of reading entire para­graphs between the lines of each Article!

  • gr8nooz

    In case my sen­ators missed this from Senator McClintock, I emailed them and a few radio talk show hosts a link to the Hillsdale Imprimis issue that pub­lished his speech. I encourage others to do the same.
    https://imprimis.hillsdale.edu/senate-must-reform-filibuster/