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This November, Vote for a Working Senate

Nicholas F. Brady, secretary of the Treasury in the Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations, served as a Republican senator from New Jersey.
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The presidential race has overshadowed the most consequential challenge of the November election: the need to preserve a well-functioning Senate. To my mind, that means keeping a Republican majority.

Regardless of who occupies the White House in 2017, a working Senate will be essential to maintaining the integrity of the American political system. What shouldn’t be lost on voters over the next two months is that the U.S. Senate has operated more effectively in the past 20 months than it has over the previous 10 years. Americans concerned with responsible governance cannot ignore this fact.

Whether you are progressive or conservative, your cause has been served by a Senate that operates as the Founders intended. As James Madison stressed in Federalist No. 62, the Senate’s role “must be in all cases a salutary check on the government.” In particular, a well-run Senate is indispensable in countering ill-advised or ideologically driven policies -- the type that tend to emerge in the first months of any new presidential administration.

In 2009, we saw a Democratic Senate majority push through President Barack Obama’s agenda with precious little scrutiny. Rules designed to prevent this from happening were circumvented by the Democratic Senate majority, which waved through scores of nominees to federal government positions without advice or consent of the Senate. Those nominees are now overseeing billions of taxpayer dollars, suffocating the economy with intrusive regulations and rendering judicial opinions for politicized purposes.

The basic operations of the Senate under the Democratic majority were rendered nearly useless. The committee process -- designed to vet and test legislative ideas and build consensus across party lines -- was largely sidelined. Instead of empowering senators from across the ideological spectrum to find common ground in committee, the Democratic majority plucked legislation out of thin air 194 times, putting bills on the floor without so much as a hearing. The predictable result was substandard lawmaking and boiling partisan tension.

Since January 2015, the new majority in the Senate has restored the institution to the role the Founders intended. It has sought to do the people’s business in a serious way. Its members have not accomplished all they set out to do, and the Senate certainly has not been free of partisan argument, but there has been progress: the first joint congressional budget in six years, the first long-term highway bill in a decade. Importantly, rising young senators in both parties have been given the opportunity to contribute meaningfully to issues that matter to their constituents.

More than 200 amendments have been voted on by the current Senate, compared with only 15 over a comparable period under the Democratic majority. Why does this matter? Amendments bring senators together. Amendments mean the committees are hard at work; it is in committee that senators get to know and trust one another. All those amendments are evidence that the leadership is opening the process. 

Equally important to the integrity of the Senate is the steadfast protection of the institution from the extremes of both parties. The Republican majority has turned aside calls to do away with the filibuster. Despite harsh criticism from its own political base, Republicans have adhered to Alexander Hamilton’s vision of the Senate -- a body committed not to short-term activism but to lasting good.

Polls show that the public distrusts both major-party nominees. If Hillary Clinton is elected president with a Democratic-majority Senate, the Founders’ wisdom on the role of the Senate would be doomed. If Donald Trump is elected president with a Republican-majority Senate, there’s no doubt that the institution would refuse to rubber-stamp his mass-deportation agenda.

A majority of Americans are concerned about the direction either Trump or Clinton would take our country. They must realize that, as set forth in Federalist No. 62, the Senate was created specifically to resist “violent passions” and “intemperate and pernicious resolutions.” Americans have been provided a demonstration of how each party has used, or misused, its Senate majority over the past 10 years. In my view, only the Republican majority has remained loyal to this ideal of the institution’s role.

The Republican Senate majority is 20 months into an effort to restore the institution. For the country’s sake, we must ensure that it’s able to see it through.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Nicholas F. Brady at nickfbrady@gmail.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
David Shipley at davidshipley@bloomberg.net