Reid Is Bouncing an Important Check
via The Foundry
by Rich Tucker
It seems odd to note this in an election year, but it’s important nonetheless: The Founding Fathers feared unbridled, direct democracy. The Senate is supposed to slow down the legislative process by allowing vigorous debate. But Majority Leader Harry Reid (D–NV) is weakening its purpose by blocking other Senators from participating in that debate.
In Federalist #10, James Madison wrote that “democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.”
So while they wanted the people to govern themselves through a republic, the Founders wanted to guarantee that the process would include rigorous debate. To help facilitate that, the constitutional republic they created established two houses of Congress.
Because every House member stood for election every two years, that body tended to move more quickly. So the Founders wanted the Senate to be more deliberative. Madison “explained that the Constitution’s framers considered the Senate to be the great ‘anchor’ of the government. To the framers themselves, Madison explained that the Senate would be a ‘necessary fence’ against the ‘fickleness and passion’ that tended to influence the attitudes of the general public and members of the House of Representatives,” as the Senate’s history puts it.
But in a new Heritage paper, Brian Darling warns that this important check is being lost. “The United States Senate is becoming less open and deliberative because Senators’ right to debate and offer amendments has been severely restricted,” Darling writes. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D–NV) “has made a habit of using a procedural tactic called ‘filling the amendment tree’ to block amendments to bills. He has employed this tactic more than 50 times during his more than five years as Majority Leader to prevent the minority party from forcing votes on politically charged amendments.”
“Filling the tree,” Darling explains, “involves the Senate Majority Leader using his privilege of being recognized first to offer amendment after amendment to block all other amendments to a bill.” Other Senators are effectively blocked from the amendment process.
Darling warns that “over the past few years, the Senate has changed from a body with all 100 Senators participating to a body that is tightly controlled by the Senate Majority Leader. This development is disturbing because it has restricted the rights of Senators—Democrats, Republicans, and independents—to participate fully in the deliberative process.”
He recommends that Senators either adopt a point of order that would prevent Reid from “filling the tree” or that Reid simply agree to stop doing so. Either way, Darling writes, the Senate needs to change course if it is to fulfill the Founders’ intentions and remain a forum for vigorous debate.