US Senate needs to get back to work and take its essential place (Ted Kaufman)

In this News Journal column, Ted Kaufman begins by citing his “24 years [including two years as a senator] working in the United States Senate” and saying “I know how [the Senate] is supposed to work” and “it pains me to say that today it is a mess.”

Kaufman was one of 70 former senators who recently signed a letter to the current members. The letter was published in the Washington Post [
2/25/20] and “widely quoted elsewhere for a couple of days,” but “didn’t have the impact we hoped it might.” Hence this column to share what the letter “was all about.”

The perceived problem is partisan gridlock – the recommended solution is a bipartisan caucus prepared to oppose partisans “who prefer to take intransigent positions instead of a legislative process that celebrates compromise.” Back to meaningful committee work and a Senate in which every member can support the “more perfect union” that the Constitution was adopted to form.

The negative effects of the Senate filibuster rule as presently administered, effectively creating a 60 vote requirement for most legislative actions, are candidly acknowledged. It is also acknowledged that there never was a time when the Senate was “one big happy family.” There is no discussion (either in the column or the letter), however, of whether the Senate filibuster rule should be abolished rather than trying to keep justifying it as an essential element in the system. Note that there is no constitutional basis for this rule, other than the provision that the House and Senate can establish their respective procedural rules.

Also, it’s not necessarily true that bipartisan action by the Senate (or more broadly by Congress as a whole) will be better than action by a Senate majority after an appropriate time for debate. Compromise solutions often involve “kicking the can” down the road, as Congress has been doing for decades on a number of problems, notably chronic deficits, excessive government regulations, and illegal immigration.

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