Judd Gregg Struggles With Basic Civics

Here's Senator Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), pretending that the Founding Fathers did things that they did not do -- except in Judd Gregg's mind.

Here's Senator Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), pretending that the Founding Fathers did things that they did not do -- except in Judd Gregg's mind.

Why did they choose that bill called reconciliation to do this? Or why will they? Because under the Senate rules, anything that comes across the floor of the Senate requires 60 votes to pass. It's called the filibuster. That's the way the Senate was structured. The Senate was structured to be the place where bills which rushed through the House because they have a lot of rules that limit debate and allow people to pass bills quickly, but they don't have any rule in the House called the filibuster which allows people to slow things down.

The Founding Fathers realized when they structured this they wanted checks and balances. They didn't want things rushed through. They saw the parliamentary system. They knew it didn't work. So they set up the place, as George Washington described it, where you take the hot coffee out of the cup and you pour it into the saucer and you let it cool a little bit and you let people look at it and make sure it's done correctly. That's why we have the 60-vote situation over here in the Senate to require that things get full consideration.

But, as Matt Yglesias points out, this is all wrong: "It's true that the Founding Fathers wanted checks and balances, but this is why we have bicameralism and presidential veto power. Those are the checks. The filibuster rule is not in the Constitution."

In the House of Representatives, the filibuster (the right to unlimited debate) was used until 1842, when a permanent rule limited the duration of debate. The disappearing quorum was a tactic used by the minority until an 1890 rule eliminated it. As the membership of the House grew much larger than the Senate, the House has acted earlier to control floor debate and the delay and blocking of floor votes.

In 1789, the first U.S. Senate adopted rules allowing the Senate "to move the previous question," ending debate and proceeding to a vote. Aaron Burr argued that the motion regarding the previous question was redundant, had only been exercised once in the preceding four years, and should be eliminated. In 1806, the Senate agreed, recodifying its rules, and thus the potential for a filibuster sprang into being. Because the Senate created no alternative mechanism for terminating debate, the filibuster became an option for delay and blocking of floor votes.

The filibuster remained a solely theoretical option until the late 1830s. The first Senate filibuster occurred in 1837.

Pay special attention to that first paragraph. The Senate could not have been "structured to be the place" where bills that were rushed through the House got slowed down, because the rules which sped things up in the House didn't exist until 1842. Not only is Gregg just wrong about when and how the filibuster came about, his entire premise about the relationship of the House and Senate and cups and saucers and how the Founding Fathers set everything up is, as they say, bullshit.

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