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Pullen: Needed: U.S. Senate Rule Reform Now




Commentary by Penny Pullen, former Illinois State Representative and editor, Life Advocacy Briefing

In all the after-action analysis of the March 24 failure of the ObamaCare repeal/replacement proposal in the US House, little has been said about the frustration faced by many House Members in knowing the proposal – regardless of the intricacies of House negotiations – would face immense difficulty in the Senate if it would indeed pass the House.

We make that observation not only because a handful of Senators in the Majority Party had vowed either to block the House proposal or to so alter it as to make it unrecognizable – not only because of these individuals and their own ideas and demands but also because of the Senate’s rules.

Though many have taken note of the Senate’s so-called “Byrd Rule,” which relates to limitations on the content of budget reconciliation proposals, we contend a greater problem is in the Senate’s 60-vote supermajority requirement to bring virtually any proposal to a vote – the “cloture” rule. It is that rule which prompted the GOP House and Senate Leaders to choose the budget reconciliation vehicle (exempt from the 60-vote rule) for ObamaCare repeal/replacement and, just as important though less often noted publicly, the disqualification of Planned Parenthood from taxpayer funding.

It was the choice of “reconciliation” that broke the ObamaCare repeal/replacement into three separate stages, with stage three being a later proposal – requiring 60 votes – that House conservatives were demanding in March, demanding such critical reforms as opening the health insurance market to robust competition by expressly authorizing in federal law the marketing of policies across state lines. Because of the Senate’s 60-vote cloture rule – and because of the Minority Party’s stubborn refusal either to repeal or to reform their pet healthcare takeover legislation – conservatives were right to fear that “stage three” would never come.

But it’s not just the building of a free-market health insurance system that is jeopardized by the cloture rule in these days of determined Democratic Party fanaticism. The 60-vote cloture rule has stopped every reasonable pro-life legislative proposal for the past eight years.

Those Americans who have blamed Congress for legislative inaction over the past eight years – especially since the GOP regained control of the House in 2011 – ought instead to be blaming the Senate’s unyielding embrace of its Minority-empowerment cloture rule.

 Defund Planned Parenthood? House says “yes;” Senate never votes on it. Protect young girls from being transported across state lines for abortions behind their parents’ backs? House says “yes;” Senate never votes on it. Barring abortions on babies aged 20 weeks or older and subject to excruciating pain? House says “yes;” Senate never votes on it.

            It is the Senate – regardless of which party was in control – which sheltered Barack Obama from having to demonstrate how merciless he was as President; if Planned Parenthood and the abortion industry generally did not want a bill to be enacted into law, it simply never saw the light of day in the Senate, because the abortion industry controls enough Senate votes to block “cloture” every time.

            Confirm Neil Gorsuch? Get rid of the 60-vote rule. Repeal/replace ObamaCare? Get rid of the 60-vote rule. Defund Planned Parenthood and redirect “women’s healthcare” grants to legitimate community health centers, as in Sen. Ernst’s gestating legislation? Get rid of the 60-vote rule.

            The Senate does not have to worry about losing its “distinctiveness” as a “deliberative” body. It will still be unique, as its Members are elected statewide rather than in districts, and each Senator is subject to voter accountability only every six years. Those are characteristics which will still have the effect of slowing down proposals and facilitating robust debate. But Minority control is not only problematic, it is unAmerican, and it is time for the Senate to put this sullied tradition into history’s dustbin.


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  1. This is a mistake. What will happen when the Democrats are back in power? These things should not be easy for good reason. I don’t want either party to have this rule change to make their controversial decisions easier to enforce. Sigh. If only Republicans hadn’t been such obstructionists during the Obama years! But you reap what you sow.