Town Hall: ‘The Senate is Broken’: Rep. Luke Messer Calls for an End to the Filibuster
January 24, 2018
Rep. Luke Messer (R-IN) thinks the United States Senate is broken and that the time has come for Senate Republicans “to rip up the rule book and get rid of the filibuster.” He introduced a resolution in the House Monday that expresses the sense of the House of Representatives that the Senate should “immediately change its rules and eliminate the modern filibuster.”
The Senate’s legislative filibuster requires a 60-vote supermajority to be overcome, causing a lot of delay, gridlock, and, some say, it’s to blame for the brief government shutdown that occurred over DACA funding.
“There are hundreds of bills that have passed the House over the last year that languished in the United States Senate,” Messer told Townhall Tuesday, “whatever the filibuster used to be and you know maybe it, sometime in the past, encouraged bipartisan cooperation but today the filibuster is a tool of partisan gamesmanship that puts the minority party in charge and the American people are tired of it.”
The word filibuster, derived from a Dutch word meaning “pirate,” was meant to ensure that minority voices were heard and has long been a tactic used to delay voting on legislation. In 1917, it was determined that a two-thirds majority could invoke cloture and end a filibuster. In 1975, the two-thirds majority was changed to the current three-fifths, 60-vote majority.
“The filibuster is not in the Constitution, it has not been a part of our nation’s history since the beginning of our Republic, it’s largely a product of the last hundred years,” Messer told Townhall, “and the modern filibuster, this idea that a single U.S. Senator can file a piece of paper and stop debate is really a product of the 1970s so I think it is a rule that has shown itself to be out of date and hurting the Senate’s ability to function.”
Messer is referencing a Senate rule change in 1975 that made it significantly easier to filibuster by allowing other business to be conducted while a filibuster is underway. Senators are also now able to filibuster in absentia, meaning they do not even need to be present on the Senate floor in order to halt legislation.
“The filibuster has already been eliminated for judicial nominations because it became obvious over time that the Senate couldn’t confirm judges without the use of the filibuster,” Messer pointed out.
He added that tax reform was only able to go through the Senate because the filibuster is not used on fiscal policy.
“It is now through reconciliation not used on fiscal policy you know that’s how we were able to get the tax cuts passed,” he said, “I think it’s become obvious that it no longer can function in the day to day operation of the U.S. Senate.”
“The American people have sent conservative majorities to Washington and we have a hard time delivering on the Trump, Pence agenda if the U.S. Senate is unable to function,” he said. “The filibuster puts a liberal Democratic minority in charge of the U.S. Senate and it needs to go away.”
When asked whether abolishing the filibuster could backfire if Republicans become the minority in the Senate, Messer said he didn’t “buy the premise of that” because “there are lots of ways to protect our nation from bad laws.”
“You won’t see my position change over time,” he added. “I think elections have consequences but we’re at risk of losing our Republic because the American people are losing faith that their vote matters because they continue to send new leaders to Washington and see very little change.”
Messer says he’s hopeful he can build support for his resolution but that “the ultimate support will come from the American people” and “we’ll see the rule change when the American people demand that it change.” He thought one reason why that hasn’t happened already is that “most folks aren’t aware that it takes a 60-vote supermajority to move any meaningful legislation through the Senate.”
Messer is running for Senate in Indiana and has featured ending the filibuster as part of his campaign platform. It’s the first step in his three-step plan to fix the Senate that includes speeding up the judicial nomination process and instituting term limits. He faces a crowded GOP primary field fighting to unseat Democratic incumbent Joe Donnelly.
He is certainly not alone in his frustration with the Senate filibuster. Many prominent House Republicans are questioning it, especially in light of the government shutdown.
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) said at an event in his district last week, “you ask any House member about the filibuster, you’ll get an hour of frustration.”
“If a majority is good enough in the House and a majority would have kept government from shutting down, I think that’s a whole case the American public would say, ‘That’s a responsible way to govern,’” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) told Roll Call on Saturday.
Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) told Townhall Friday that the filibuster is a “relic” and that abolishing it “would facilitate passage of a lot of good legislation in general and most of the pro-life legislation in particular.”
President Trump tweeted Sunday that, if Democrats persisted with the shutdown, Republicans should go to a 51-vote simple majority, changing Senate rules and ending the filibuster.
@realDonaldTrump:Great to see how hard Republicans are fighting for our Military and Safety at the Border. The Dems just want illegal immigrants to pour into our nation unchecked. If stalemate continues, Republicans should go to 51% (Nuclear Option) and vote on real, long term budget, no C.R.’s!
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is opposed to ending the filibuster and has repeatedly opposed using the so-called “nuclear option” to go to a simple majority vote although he did use it for the confirmation of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.
“The Republican Conference opposes changing the rules on legislation,” a representative for McConnell said on Sunday in response to Trump’s tweet.