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The Senate is Not a Playground, Time to Stop the Bullying

Government

Removing the filibuster entirely might make Harry Reid’s life easier, but it makes ours and our country worse.

Senator Reid,

Sir, I am writing this letter to you to address some comments you recently made on "Face the Nation," with Bob Schieffer. Mr. Schieffer repeatedly asked you if you were going to or are thinking about doing away with the Senate filibuster entirely.

Your answers surprised and disappointed me greatly. Instead of shooting down such a drastic notion, you simply warned that it was indeed possible if Republicans continue to stick to their beliefs and represent their constituents. It is my firm belief, backed up by your own rules and the founders themselves, that this course of action would be a grave mistake.

The founders, whom you referenced several times in that interview, had very particular thoughts and opinions on the Senate and its duty. One such thought was:

The use of the Senate is to consist in its proceeding with more coolness, with more system, & with more wisdom, than the popular branch.

The Senate should serve these ends, “first to protect the people against their rulers; secondly to protect the people against the transient impressions into which they themselves might be led.” These quotes and sentiments are from the journal of James Madison during the debate over the framework of the Constitution.

Senate Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., speaks to the media on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2013. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta) 

It was very much understood and agreed upon that the Senate should be the more restrained side of Congress; that while the House of Representatives, with their shorter terms and direct election, could be swayed by the rolling passions and impetuousness of the citizenry, the Senate was a check on that, a stabilizer for populist movements that often arise and flame out in equally short moments.

It is primarily the job of the Senate to make sure that due deliberation occurs for each bill. It is primarily the job of the Senate to slow down the machinations of government so that decisions are not hastily made, but thought out, debated and agreed upon. This, sir, is what makes the Senate different from the House, what makes it the greatest deliberative body in the world, and what apparently bothers you about the very institution you serve in.

You are correct in saying that the filibuster is not a right protected by the Constitution, but is instead a privilege found within the Senate rules that can be granted or taken away, though it hasn’t since its inception. Madison also noted the importance of the minority voice during the Constitutional debate when he said this:

It ought finally to occur to a people deliberating on a Govt. for themselves, that as different interests necessarily result from the liberty meant to be secured, the major interest might under sudden impulses be tempted to commit injustice on the minority.

The injustice on the minority, sir, is exactly what you refuse to decline. The now transient impression that the government needs to make sudden changes, that it needs to pass bills immediately is the very passion that the Senate is meant to guard against and to soften. Yet you sir, the leader of that very body, have fallen for it and now promote the “impetuous councils” you are meant to be a “necessary fence against.”

The Capital is mirrored in the Capital Reflecting Pool on Capitol Hill in Washington early Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2013. (AP Photo/J. David Ake)

We often teach our children fundamental truths and manners while they are young, things that we as adults have found out through hard living. Among these very evident truths are that you cannot and should not always get what you want, that hard work will eventually pay off, be fair to others and respect them, play nice, and no you are not always right.

While I hope that these noble virtues and truths are continually taught to our youth, I fear that our leaders need such lessons even more.

Some may remind you that Republicans will simply squash the minority voice of the Democrats once they get into power. I bring this up not as a warning to you, but as a warning to the great people of America.

[sharequote align="center"]This kind of political gamesmanship belongs on the playground, not in the Senate.[/sharequote]

This kind of political gamesmanship, this political retribution belongs on the playground, not in the Senate. The people of your state and the people of the entire country are not served by these political games. We are all tired of each side taking a pound of flesh from the other, holding it high and proclaiming victory while we continue to struggle. It may serve your purpose wonderfully and reduce the apparent burden of debate and compromise for you sir, but it does not serve ours.

In your last answer, you said that the country cannot continue on the road that it’s on. I could not agree more with the statement sir, but for very different reasons.

Our debt has grown to an insurmountable number, $17.323 trillion as of this letter, with no sign of reversal. At this point sir, we would need to repeat our best fiscal year 65 times in a row in order to pay it down, a feat that looks impossible considering we have never had a surplus for more than four years in a row since 1940. That, Sen. Reid, is a road that we cannot continue down.

The Senate is meant to be the place of wisdom and patience sir, a body of “enlightened citizens, whose limited number, and firmness might seasonably interpose against impetuous councils.” Those values, those attributes cannot coexist with arrogance and petulance.

There is still time to make the right choice, to firmly denounce the idea of abolishing the filibuster, and to choose the path of the wise, not the wily; to encourage patience, not petulance. I sincerely hope, not necessarily for your sake, but for the sake of this amazing country and her citizens, that you make that right choice.

Thank you for your time sir.

Darrell Cheney

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