Reform The Senate Filibuster And Make The Upper Chamber Work Again

REUTERS/Gary Cameron

Rep. Bob Gibbs Congressman, Ohio 7th District
Font Size:

Since January of 2015, Republicans have held majorities in both the House and the Senate. That is not to say Republicans are controlling the agenda. This small yet very important distinction is not lost on the American people. Our constituents come home after a long day at work, turn on the news and all they hear is that Republicans are obstructing the work of the government, that Republicans want to shut down the government, that Congress isn’t doing their job. Americans have a right to be frustrated with government, but they are not being given the whole story.

The problem is not with the House, but with the Senate’s procedural rules. The House has passed bills that encompass the conservative agenda. Do not be fooled by the national media, Democrats, or outside groups that fundraise off of manufactured turmoil.

Consider some important legislation that has passed the House: The REINS Act, which requires a vote from Congress on regulations that would cost the economy $100 million or more annually, passed the House in July of this year. With regulations costing an estimated $1.9 trillion annually, this is incredibly important legislation that helps every American by lowering the cost of goods and services to consumers. It also passed the House in August 2013, and previously in December 2011. It is languishing in the Senate.

The House passed the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which effectively stops abortions after 20 weeks of development for an unborn child earlier in 2015. The House passed this bill in a previous Congress in June 2013. To date, it has seen no vote on the Senate floor.

These are just a few examples of a systemic problem. Even basic bills, like funding our national defense and giving our troops a much deserved pay raise, has been blocked by a self-imposed filibuster rule in the Senate. So when I hear that this is a do-nothing Congress, that conservative legislation is not being passed, I take particular exception to that.

The problem, as previously mentioned and evidenced above, lies in the Senate. Most people know a filibuster to be a long speech on the Senate floor that slows debate or stops the passage of a bill. A filibuster requires work, stamina and a commitment to one’s principles. It can only be stopped with sixty votes. What some call a “virtual filibuster,” when a senator signals his or her intent to filibuster, stops the work of the people in its tracks. The virtual filibuster is preventing conservative reforms, which we were elected to pass, from being brought to the Senate floor.

The Senate minority is using arcane, self-imposed rules to dictate the agenda. By hiding behind the excuse of a filibuster, the agenda of the majority is being ceded to the political ruthlessness of the minority. If Senate Democrats want to protect an abortion mill organization, if they want to play politics with the funding of our national security, if they want to let the government run roughshod over landowners, family farms and small businesses, they should be forced to explain it.

The virtual filibuster is nonsense that allows Senate Democrats to obscure the debate and obfuscate their responsibility of our current problems.  It is time to end the virtual filibuster. Any senator, if he or she wants to prevent passage of a bill, should be at their lectern, talking for hours in an old fashioned filibuster.

We cannot let simply the threat of the filibuster hold up the work of the people. We are seeing deeply unpopular executive actions go unchecked. We are losing private property rights to EPA’s expansive regulations and seeing our nation’s border and immigration laws go unenforced. Republicans in the Senate cannot lose sight of our goal: to pass the conservative reforms and make a clear distinction between the two parties. It is time to play rough, to make Senate Democrats defend unpopular actions, to stand in support of executive overreach and do it on the record on the Senate floor.

If we reform the filibuster and force members of the Senate to conduct traditional filibusters, one of two things will happen: Either Senate Democrats will have to explain their support of Planned Parenthood and their objection to funding our military or the House and Senate can finally work together in forcing the president to veto legislation.

It is time for the House and Senate to work together, to reform the filibuster and put Democrats on defense.