Videos & Speeches
Dec 20 2012
Thank you, the Senate, of which I am a new Member, was at one time called the world's greatest deliberative body. Its rules have remained largely unchanged since the origin of the Senate. This Chamber's distinguishing attribute has undoubtedly been its right of unlimited debate and its greatest protections are the rules put in place to defend that right to debate.
I am worried about the talk now of destroying any Senator's ability to filibuster, to delay consideration of a bill, because it’s a fundamental right of all Senators to express their opposition to legislation even when that Senator stands alone-when you are the only one who opposes that legislation. This is an important right, protecting a Senator's right to object and a Senator's right to represent his or her own constituency.
Something tells me the desire to curb this debate of the Senate doesn't really come from a failure of the Senate's rules but, rather, a desire by some to see that an agenda can be pushed through by ignoring that minority right, by overriding the objections of an individual Senator on behalf of his or her constituents.
The rules of the United States Senate should not be targeted for change until we look at maybe what the problems are in the way we conduct our business currently. For so long-again, I have only been here two years, but for the two years I have been here, it seems to me that often the majority has obstructed the ideal of unlimited debate and put undue stress on the rules of our Chamber. The practice of the majority party has prevented me and my colleagues from contributing to the legislative process in several ways. Rather than encourage debate and compromise by welcoming amendments, often, what we call it here, “the tree has been filled,” or, in the way we would say it in Kansas, we fill up the opportunity for amendments with certain amendments that then preclude any other amendments being considered, that being the amendments of the rest of us.
In addition to that, the majority leader has filed cloture more than 100 times on the very day the measure was first raised on the Senate floor, which basically ends debate on that day.
We get compromise whenever everyone, the majority and minority, have the opportunity to present their points of view. Then we sit down and try to figure out the differences, how we can make things work among ourselves. We have seen rule XIV used to bypass committee work nearly 70 times in the last six years.
I am honored to serve on a long list of committees in the United States Senate and I attend many committee meetings and we hold hearings. We listen to our constituents, we listen to the experts, and we try to reach a conclusion as to what is best in a piece of legislation. When that process is bypassed, we lose that opportunity to gain from that insight.
In so many instances the committee process is bypassed. I am a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, with the example of our inability to have appropriations bills and no budget. I am in the Banking Committee on which we have lots of hearings but very few markups. I think it undermines the ability for each of us to do our jobs on behalf of America.
I think we have been forced away from what is most valuable here-discussions. Not that any of us get our own way. That’s not the nature of this place. It’s not the nature of America. But we each have our own voice, and by being able to express ourselves we have the opportunity to flesh out the best ideas and ultimately to require people to come together and reach an agreement-that word that sometimes is not said often enough-compromise.
I recognize this as a Member of the United States Senate representing the State of Kansas. I consider my State often in the minority. We are very rural. The issues we care about are different than places in the rest of the country. I represent a small population and many of my colleagues represent large urban areas with large populations. In the absence of rules protecting me as a Senator representing a minority, I think my ability to represent that minority is diminished. I recognize that I don’t always have the right answer to every question. I have great respect for everyone's opinion. I was never ordained by God to have all the answers to every problem, but I think we find that by having the respect and listening to others, and to sort out what we think is the best of our ideas and the best of other ideas to see that good things happen on behalf of America.
We need to make certain that Republicans and Democrats have the opportunity to express their opinions and then come together. We need to make certain the legislative process works in the committee and we need to make certain that we are not precluded from standing here, day after day; in opposition to legislation that we believe is bad for America. It is the Senate that has the opportunity to keep bad things from happening.
Again, I worry that as a result of the lack of function of the Senate over the last years that we are going to make dramatic changes in the rules that change the nature of this body, who we are and what we can accomplish, what our purpose is.
We need to work together, no doubt about it, but the idea of changing the rules, in my view, diminishes the need to do so. Our constituents expect us to represent them and their best interests and that means that we have the right-the necessity-of participating in the legislative process. I owe that to Kansas. I owe them nothing less. Without the right to use the filibuster to stop consideration of a bill until all ideas, all issues are heard, we risk the loss of that dissenting voice for a minority-no matter what party may be in power.
Previous Members of the Senate have understood the importance of protecting the minority's rights and have spoken out in defense of unlimited debate that exists in the Senate today. I worry that the Senate is becoming a place different. As I studied history, there was always the voice of the institution, the Senator who had been here for a long time. The collective wisdom that, yes, we are in the minority now-or we are in the majority now-but someday it will be the reverse, and we want the rules to apply no matter what position that we’re in. It seems to me in days gone past there would have been Members of the Senate who would speak out—regardless of whether a Democrat or Republican-for the institution of the Senate and what it means to the American people and the Constitution of the United States.
The late Senator Byrd once said this about the design of the Senate: “The Senate was intended to be a forum for open and free debate and for the protection of political minorities. As long as the Senate retains the power to amend and the power of unlimited debate, the liberties of the people will remain secure.”
When Senator Biden, our Vice President, was a part of this Chamber, he once said in defense of the filibuster: “At its core, the filibuster is not about stopping a nominee or a bill, it is about compromise and moderation.”
In 2005, when Republicans controlled the Senate and our president, President Obama was a Senator, he said: “If the majority chooses to end the filibuster; if they choose to change the rules and put an end to democratic debate-then fighting and bitterness and the gridlock will only get worse.”
I think this statement applies today. I am tired of the fighting, and the bitterness, and the gridlock. The American people do not want to see even more partisan bickering in Washington, DC. They want us to work together and solve our Nation's problems. They want us to get things done.
Preserving the rules of the Senate is not a partisan issue, but it’s about protecting the nature of the Senate and the rights of the minority. Without the ability to compromise or debate on the floor of the Senate, I fear that the greatest deliberative body will be drastically changed and changed for the worse.
The original design of the Senate enables each Senator to be equal to one another no matter the party label, and each has the right to protest using the filibuster. If we choose to silence the Senators in the minority now for the sake of political expediency and lower the number of votes needed for a bill to pass without dissent, then we risk changing the very nature of the Senate.
I see this as a former Member of the House of Representatives. I am accustomed—from 14 years—of having these words spoken. I yield to the gentleman from Kansas 60 seconds. The Senate is different than the House. We are entitled to more than 60 seconds of being able to speak in support or in opposition to issues before the Senate. If that filibuster were to be destroyed, and if the last protection of the rights of the minority were to be disregarded, then the Senate would become substantially no different than the House. It would be marked by limited debate where the majority runs against the basic nature of the Senate rules based upon population.
When the Republicans were in control of the Senate in 2005, Senator Reid, our majority leader, said: “The threat to change the Senate rules is a raw abuse of power and will destroy the very checks and balances our Founding Fathers put in place to prevent absolute power by any one branch of government.”
It is my belief that the Senate still exists today in the form that the Framers intended and that we must put a stop to the raw abuse of power. The Senate represents the embodiment of freedom of speech, and we should encourage the full exercise of our hard-won freedoms and unlimited debate. This tradition stands as testament to the sacrifices of generations of early Americans and Americans throughout the history of our country. This freedom is one that will certainly be fought for in this Congress and the next.