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Senate is an 'embarrassment' over Iran deal

The U.S. Senate's refusal to debate or vote on the Iran nuclear agreement is a national embarrassment. The culprit is clear: The 60-vote threshold required to stop a filibuster. It's time to end the filibuster, a relic of the past that is contributing to gridlock and dysfunction.


The Capitol Building in Washington D.C.
Andrew Harrer | Bloomberg | Getty Images
The Capitol Building in Washington D.C.

Recently, I sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell urging him to end the filibuster and allow the Iran deal to be decided by a simple majority vote. National security is too important to be held hostage by partisan obstructionists who won't even allow a debate on the issue.

The filibuster is being abused in the Senate and it needs to stop. It may have made sense at some point in history, but not today. Government dysfunction is at an all-time high and the filibuster is a big part of the reason.

The Constitution gives the power to set rules to the senators themselves, which in this case means the Senate majority leader. In fact, the founding fathers expressed concern about the use of supermajority thresholds (like the 60 votes needed to stop a filibuster) for legislative business.

In Federalist 75, Alexander Hamilton noted that "it has been shown . . . that all provisions which require more than the majority of any body ... have a direct tendency to embarrass the operations of the government, and an indirect one to subject the sense of the majority to that of the minority."


Some people say ending the filibuster is "the nuclear option" because it would break longstanding tradition in the Senate. I call it the "Constitutional option" because our founding fathers clearly allowed the Senate to set its own rules, as spelled out in the 1892 Supreme Court case of United States v. Ballin.

Only blind adherence to an obsolete tradition keeps the Senate from ending the abuse of the filibuster. We should not allow outmoded notions of decorum to block debate and votes on important bills.


An exception may be necessary for Supreme Court appointments and international treaties, which are only considered by the Senate and not subject to the normal checks and balances of a vote in the U.S. House.

Some argue that ending the filibuster will reduce the rights of the minority party, potentially harming Republicans in the future should they lose the majority in the Senate. Regardless of which party controls the Senate, legislation should be debated and voted on using a simple majority of 51 votes.

Nearly every governing body in the United States, from school boards to corporate boards, makes decision based on a simple majority. Only by holding the U.S. Senate to the same standard can we begin to end Washington dysfunction and rebuild trust and confidence in government.

The Senate once was known as "the world's greatest deliberative body." Not anymore. And not again until it eliminates the filibuster once and for all.

Commentary by Vern Buchanan, a Republican from Florida who is currently serving his fifth term in the U.S. House of Representativesand is Florida's only member of the House Ways and Means Committee. He also serves on the House Budget Committee.Twitter @VernBuchanan.