I hope you will indulge me for just a few moments to make a couple of other recommendations. I have got one for my Republican colleagues; I have got one for my Democratic colleagues—mostly for my Democratic colleagues— and two for this institution that we have had this privilege to serve in.
For my Republican colleagues, let me just say, our party can’t be about or beholden to any one man. We are much bigger than that. Our party is much bigger than that. We are the political representation of this huge center-right coalition across America. On a good day, that is more than half of Americans.
And I hope we resist the temptation to adopt the protectionist, nativist, isolationist, redistributive policies that some are suggesting we embrace. I think those are inconsistent with the core values of a majority of the people in this coalition. More importantly, I think those ideas lead to bad outcomes for our country.
For my Democratic colleagues, I have heard many of you passionately— and I believe sincerely—declare your determination to defend our democracy, but I would suggest we all remember that democracy requires much more than the ease of voting in an election.
Elections are absolutely necessary, but they are an insufficient condition for a truly democratic society. Elections really are a means to an end; they are not the end themselves. The end, or purpose, of elections is to provide the mechanism of account ability of the government to the people whose consent is our sole source of legitimacy.
When we hand over Congress’s responsibilities to unelected and, therefore, unaccountable parts of our government—be that the courts or independent regulators or executive branch agencies—we really undermine our democracy, which, of course, is really our Republic, because we weaken the accountability of our government.
Now, look, both sides have done this over time, but I would just hope we could all agree that preserving more responsibility and, therefore, accountability for the legislative branch of government is a good thing for our Republic.
And then two suggestions for this amazing, historic institution. The first one—and it is the most important one: Please keep the filibuster. It is the only mechanism that forces bipartisan consensus. It prevents government governance from the extremes. By forcing bipartisanship, it results in more durable legislation and so lessens the likelihood of big swings in policies. It provides stability for our constituents. And if you want to see more polarization, get rid of the filibuster and we will have much more polarization.
The second thought I had that I wanted to share with you is, I think we can all agree that the Senate has not been functioning as well as it once did and as it really should. I don’t think too many committees are producing too much legislation the old-fashioned way. The old-fashioned way was actually a pretty good vetting process for developing legislative ideas. And when legislation does get to the floor, typi- cally, there are very few substantive amendments that are allowed to be considered.
The result is, as a body, it is very difficult for us to discover whether and where there might be a consensus. I know there are a lot of reasons for this, including political polarization, reasons why the Senate behaves in a way that tends to block debate and voting.
But there might be some relatively modest tweaks in Senate rules that might just facilitate restoring some of what used to be normal functioning. I know a lot of you have done a lot of work in this and that work is still underway. Let me suggest you considerone small tweak, a small but important technical change to a rule, the rule which enables the obstruction of the body.
I am not talking about the filibuster but, rather, the rule that effectively requires unanimous consent, in most cases, to allow a vote on an amendment, any amendment, even a germane amendment.
I can tell you, most Pennsylvanians are very surprised to learn that in order for a Senator to get a vote on almost anything, he or she needs the permission of every other Senator. I don’t think this rule is workable any longer, and it contributes to the dysfunction.
So I have just got a simple idea: Consider raising the threshold for blocking an amendment to some number greater than one.
Now, I support the filibuster because I think it is reasonable for 41 Senators to be able to block legislation. It just doesn’t seem reasonable for one. So I don’t know what the right number is, and I am not religious about this. Maybe it is 10. Maybe it is 20. Maybe it is 50. But I would just suggest that this body consider somehow raising the bar of preventing the Senate from functioning. There may be better ways to do it, but that is one suggestion.
Let me conclude with this: You know, we have all inherited something really, really, truly special. I know we all appreciate that, the fact that we live in the greatest country in the history of humanity and that we serve in this amazing legislative body.
I suspect we all get asked—I know I get asked from time to time—some version of the question: How worried are you about our country’s future? And, often, there is some combination of national security, political polarization, and the future of our economy that is the primary concern of the people posing the question.
My short reply is usually: Look, we have gotten through much tougher times. But think about it. I think that is so true, and it is important to remember.
On national security, we have got real threats out there. Russia is obviously led by a violent, dangerous bully. The Chinese Communist Party is a rising and increasingly aggressive threat. But nowhere do we face the imminent threats that we faced during World War II and at several moments during the Cold War.
And we are polarized, and it is uncomfortable and it is problematic; but, in 1968, we had political assassinationsand cities were being burned down. And this Chamber, this very Chamber we are in right now, first opened its doors in 1859. Imagine living through the decade that followed that.
As for the economy, look, there are always risks to any economy. Ours is no exception. I think inflation is a significant problem. There is a possibility we have a recession next year. We have huge and growing national debt, and I think that is going to be a real challenge for us.
But I think it is worth remembering this: The vast majority of Americans have a much higher standard of living today than our parents did when they were our age. And a rising standard of living is, after all, the purpose of economic growth.
So I always answer that question about America’s future with the truth, and that is that, despite our challenges, I am extremely bullish on America. And I think my optimism is easily justified by our history.
America has always been able to survive and thrive, and America remains the greatest nation in the history of the world. If we keep on being Americans, we will remain the greatest nation on the planet.
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