The legislative filibuster is what the U.S. Senate is all about and without it, you don’t have the check and balance that the founders intended, U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-South Dakota) told Tuesday’s meeting of the Yankton Rotary Club.
A filibuster involves the use of tactics intended to delay or prevent action in a legislative assembly, such as taking the maximum time allowed to make speeches.
“If you look at the Constitution, if you look at the Federalist Papers, the founders intended the Senate to be the place where things were slowed down,” he said. “It’s more deliberate and thoughtful.”
Longer, staggered terms and the equal representation of all states also reflect that intention, he said.
“It was an incredible feature within the boundary lines of what would provide for a stable government,” Thune said. “It is intended to provide solutions that would be durable over time through a certain amount of cooperation, compromise and collaboration, and that would give a voice to the minority, so that majoritarian rule wouldn’t be the rule of the day.”
The legislative filibuster is an important part of that, he said.
“The legislative filibuster actually goes way back to Thomas Jefferson,” Thune said. “It’s basically unlimited debate, so when somebody decided to take the floor and hold it, they could do it indefinitely.”
In the 1900s, senators came up with a means to cut off debate by a super-majority vote of 67 or a two-thirds vote. In the 1970s, the required majority was reduced to 60 votes or a three-fifths majority to do anything in the Senate, he said.
“What’s being talked about right now by the Democratic Georgia senators Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff is changing that to 51,” Thune said. “It would essentially do away with the legislative process and turn the Senate into the House with longer terms and, arguably, larger egos.”
Because action in the Senate now requires 60 votes, the parties are forced to work together, he said.
“The November elections split the Senate to 50 Democrats and 50 Republicans and the vice president casts the deciding vote,” Thune said. “For that matter, even the House of Representatives is at about an equal margin right now, so people in this country, I don’t think, voted for radical change and they didn’t want to see radical changes.”
Equal representation by both parties in the Legislature indicates that the people want elected representatives to work together, getting results and coming up with solutions, he said.
“What’s being talked about by the Democrats in the Senate, even though it’s a 50-50 Senate, a potentially dead-heat Senate, is sort of ramming everything through at 51 votes, and that agenda is fairly far-reaching,” Thune said. “Also, it’s a very left-leaning ‘progressive,’ if you want to call it that, agenda, but it’s got a lot of things on there that the Democrats aren’t able to get done and they want to be able to do it at 51 votes instead of the required 60.”
So far, the agenda includes various tax hikes and a bill to change elections in the U.S., he said.
Republicans are being accused of abusing the filibuster, when the irony is that for the last six years, it is the Democrats who have been using it, especially in the last four years, to stop President Trump’s agenda, he noted.
“We worked with them last year on all the COVID relief bills, and we passed five of them,” Thune said. “We passed all five with more than 60 votes, a true bipartisan majority under the rules of the Senate as they’ve been in place now for a couple of centuries.”
Doing away with the legislative filibuster after a very equal election to push through a very aggressive, progressive agenda would rapidly change the way things are done in the U.S., he said.
“If you think about it, the majority could flip back and forth every two years,” Thune said. “Well, if the Democrats did everything with 51 votes, you know — turnabout is fair play — so the Republicans are going to only need 51 votes.”
If Democrats are able to raise taxes in all the areas of interest to them, Republicans could, with 51 votes, change it all back in two years, he said.
“You’re going to have this endless cycle of policy that flips back and forth whenever the majority in the Senate flips,” he said. “There’s no predictability there. There’s no durability when it comes to solutions. They won’t be able to break the cycle of just flipping and flopping back.”
The only thing standing between the country and that happening are two senate Democrats, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, who have publicly stated that they will not vote to abolish the filibuster, he said.
“I hope they stand firm, because there’s a lot riding on this,” Thune said. “I hope you’ll follow the discussion on this over the course of the next few weeks.”
Also, Thune said he believes that most Americans are what he called center-right.
“I think the majority of Americans still believe in a lot of the things that I believe in in terms of how we deal with fiscal issues, jobs, national security and some of the cultural issues,” he said. “I think there’s a big swath of America that’s still is available to us, if we can speak to them in a way that puts them together. “