A crowd of people, a blue checkmark, and the U.S. Capitol

Hoodwinked No More: How to Drain the Swamp

As much as Donald Trump’s “Make America Great” appealed to many Americans, “Drain the Swamp” had more appeal to me. It will be hard to make America great again if the congressional swamp is not drained. I did some digging and found out how to identify the plug and drain the swamp. Are you ready to insist that the plug be pulled?

To drain anything, you first have to find what is plugging things up. In the swamp we call Congress, it seems to me that the greatest “plug” is the U.S. Senate. The U.S. House passes good legislation that goes to the Senate to die. I have gotten to the point that I almost don’t care what the House does because it’s DOA in the Senate.

Is Cloture Really the “Plug”?

It dies there because of another “plug”—the cloture rule that requires 60 U.S. senators to vote to cut off debate in order to get to the vote on the underlying bill. The Republican majority has told us for eight years that they have not been able to get the 60 votes they need to vote on a budget or a repeal of Obamacare.

We’ve been told that the only way around the cloture rule was the “nuclear option,” by which the Senate president (or presiding officer) and the majority simply “rule” based on a strained reading of another rule that only a majority vote is required. This was called the “nuclear” option because manipulation of the rules would “blow up” the rule book, so to speak, and forever do away with cloture. This, we were told, was the only way out, and it would be “bad” in the long run.

In keeping with my personality, I couldn’t accept the possibility that the majority in the Senate had not left themselves some way out under the tyranny of the minority. So I began to research the U.S. Senate rules and began to make some phone calls.

We’ve Been Hoodwinked

It seems you and I have been hoodwinked. The fact is a simple majority can bring about a vote on a bill. Sixty votes is not an absolute requirement if the Republican majority is actually willing to do its job.

All that is required is for the president of the Senate to strictly enforce what is called the two-speech rule on motions to proceed to whatever bill it is the majority wants an up or down vote on. This is not “blowing up” the rules by manipulating them, but actually following the rules.

The two-speech rule means that a senator can speak to a motion only two times. Once there is no one remaining who can speak (they’ve had their two speeches) or wants to speak, the majority can vote to proceed to a vote on the underlying bill. Republicans need to just let the Democrats exhaust themselves physically and, in the public’s eye, politically.

We should not be hoodwinked into thinking this means marathon sessions, without food and sleep for days on end. The two-speech rule does not have to look like Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

From what I understand, the majority can determine how long the Senate will remain in session each day. Late-night and/or weekend sessions are not required. Republicans just need to keep a majority available while they are in session to come to the floor to repeal any procedural motions the Democrats might make.

That could mean that Republicans can’t go out on the town for drinks; it could mean that they need to stick to their offices for a couple of days, maybe sleep on the couch. With many in our military sleeping on cots in the desert, that should not be too much to ask, given that being a senator is a “tour of duty” for which they ran.

If the Republican senators really wanted to vote on something—like a budget, the repeal of Obamacare, or a Supreme Court nominee—they just have to be willing to stay on the motion to proceed for as many days as it takes until the obstructionists run out of speeches they can give.

The Real Plug: Republicans or Democrats?

If the Republican leadership in the Senate is unwilling to invoke the two-speech rule because it would be too inconvenient for their members, then we’ll know that they are the real plug keeping the swamp from being drained, not the Democrats. But if Republicans are disciplined, and Democrats go on for days, Americans will know that they are the plug.

I’m for finding out which party is the real plug in the U.S. Senate I’m for pulling the plug by invoking the two-speech rule. What about you?


David Fowler served in the Tennessee state Senate for 12 years before joining FACT as President in 2006. Read David’s complete bio.

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