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Wicker: Senate’s Constitutional Role Should Be Restored

Failed Leadership of Senate Democrats Has Derailed Regular Order

Friday, October 5, 2012

Mississippians want solutions to today’s economic challenges and are right to be frustrated by the Senate’s gridlock.  Senate Democrats, who hold the majority, have not passed a budget in more than 1,250 days, refuse to take up a single appropriations bill, and have delayed the authorization of defense programs when we have troops in harm’s way.

A recent article in the New York Times noted the failure of Democratic leadership, saying Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) “seems content to achieve little.”  In difficult times, he and members of his party have chosen to punt tough decisions until after the election.  As the Times described, “The 112th Congress is set to enter the Congressional record books as the least productive body in a generation.”

Importance of Debate

Last month, I spoke on the Senate floor with many of my Republican colleagues demanding an end to the dysfunction and a return to regular order.  The framers of our Constitution designed the Senate to be an institution of careful deliberation, and the right to unlimited debate plays a vital role in making legislation better.

Earlier this year, Leader Reid suggested he is willing to make unprecedented changes to Senate rules that could undermine the ability of Senators to ensure legislation is thoroughly vetted and improved.  Without the minority party’s right to debate, the majority could push through reckless legislation and bypass essential bipartisan deliberation.  Rather than forging legislative solutions, Leader Reid has wasted precious time trying to circumvent the rules. 

A Model that Works

The Senate has operated as designed several times during this Congress, and the results were positive.  The Senate passed a bipartisan highway bill and long-term flood insurance reauthorization after beneficial debate and amendments from both Republicans and Democrats.  Regular order produced better legislation, and it should be a model moving forward. 

Congress is the most democratic branch of our government, and upholding its role is important to maintaining the government’s proper checks and balances.  In August, I sent a letter with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) to Leader Reid calling for the traditions and character of the Senate to be respected and preserved.  Despite political disagreements, which happen in a functioning democracy, the sanctity of the Senate should prevail.

Checking Executive Overreach
Executive power has grown tremendously during President Obama’s term, and safeguarding the constitutional obligations of the legislative branch is key to checking this overreach.  Last month, I joined 41 of my Senate colleagues in supporting a legal challenge to the constitutionality of the President’s so-called “recess” appointments, which he made when the Senate was still in session.

The President’s actions violate the Senate’s exclusive constitutional right to provide “advice and consent” on all nominations and treaties.  In claiming the authority to determine when the Senate is in recess, the Obama Administration reversed years of precedent and put political priorities above the founding principles of our government’s separation of powers.

Protecting the constitutional responsibilities of the Senate means reining in Leader Reid’s abuse of Senate rules and challenging President Obama’s power grabs.  Regular order and productive debate are critical to passing meaningful legislation and economic solutions, and we need new leadership to ensure that the integrity of the Senate is restored.

October 2012 Weekly Columns