U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) today discussed Senate Democrats’ partisan approach to additional COVID-19 relief funding, and noted that Senate Republicans continue to work to reach a bipartisan agreement. Thune also discussed Senate Democrats’ threats to abolish the Byrd rule, which was adopted to prevent abuse of the budget reconciliation process and to protect the rights of the minority in the Senate.
Excerpt of Thune’s remarks:
“Mr. President, in his victory speech, and later in his inauguration address, President Biden made it clear that he intended to govern for all Americans.
“He pledged to be, quote, “a President who seeks not to divide, but to unify. Who doesn't see Red and Blue states, but a United States. And who will work with all my heart to win the confidence of the whole people.”
“I was encouraged by his words, and hopeful about the potential for a new day in American politics and real bipartisan legislative work on the priorities facing the American people.
“It’s a hope I still have, Mr. President.
“But I am discouraged by the path we’re on here in Congress.
“Yesterday Senate Democrats voted to proceed to a budget resolution designed to allow Democrats to pass COVID legislation on a purely partisan basis.
“Mr. President, as I noted a couple of weeks ago, it’s common to talk about unity at inaugurations.
“But all too often, that commitment is quickly forgotten.
“And unfortunately, we’re already seeing signs that members of the Democrat leadership are rapidly abandoning the president’s call for bipartisanship.
“Mr. President, Democrats’ turn toward budget reconciliation – a process that allows certain legislation to pass the Senate with a simple majority instead of 60 votes – would be more understandable if Republicans had categorically refused to consider any additional COVID legislation.
“But that isn’t even close to being the case.
“Republicans share Democrats’ commitment to COVID priorities, like vaccinating Americans and getting our children back in the classroom.
“In fact, we’ve passed five COVID relief bills so far in Congress – totaling more than $4 trillion – and every one of those bills was passed under Republican leadership in the Senate.
“Just this week, a group of 10 Republicans outlined a $600 billion COVID proposal that would fund vaccine distribution, extend enhanced unemployment benefits, and provide additional economic support to Americans who need it the most.
“And on Monday night – at the same time that Speaker Pelosi released her budget bill – they were meeting with President Biden in the Oval Office for two hours.
“Republicans are more than ready to work with Democrats on additional COVID relief.
“Now I won’t pretend we don’t have reservations about some of the measures Democrats have proposed.
“For instance, I don’t think an emergency COVID bill is the place to push through a change that would more than double the federal minimum wage and directly increase expenses on businesses that have been decimated by the pandemic.
“I also think that sending checks to those who don’t need them and won’t spend them is not a good use of taxpayer money.
“But disagreement over aspects of the Democrat proposal does not mean that Republicans are not willing to work with Democrats on COVID relief.
“Mr. President, Democrats’ move toward a purely partisan pathway on COVID legislation is troubling.
“But what is even more disturbing is the noise some Democrats are making about gutting the Byrd rule.
“The Byrd rule – named for and introduced by Democrat Senator Robert Byrd – was adopted to prevent abuse of the budget reconciliation process and protect the rights of the minority in the Senate.
“It limits the proposals that can be considered under budget reconciliation so that the majority party in the Senate cannot use the budget reconciliation process to push through any legislation it wants with a bare majority vote.
“But some Democrats are suggesting doing away with the Byrd rule as a way of getting around the legislative filibuster.
“And that’s a big problem.
“Preserving minority rights was a priority for the Founders.
“They knew that in democratic forms of government, tyrannical majorities could easily trample the rights of the minority.
“And so they were determined to put in place a system of checks and balances that would protect the rights of the minority.
“One of those checks was the Senate.
“And as time has gone on, the legislative filibuster is the Senate rule that has had perhaps the greatest impact in protecting minority rights in the Senate.
“But the Byrd rule has played a key role as well.
“By limiting senators’ ability to use budget reconciliation to get around the filibuster, the Byrd rule has helped ensure that the minority has at least some voice in most legislation passed by the Senate.
“Mr. President, in 2017, when Republicans held the majority in Congress as well as the White House, there were calls within our party to gut the Byrd rule and abolish the legislative filibuster.
“But the Republican majority in the Senate refused.
“We knew that abolishing the legislative filibuster – or de facto abolishing it by gutting the Byrd rule – would seriously weaken minority representation in the Senate.
“And so for the long-term good of the Senate – and the country – we refused.
“We knew that it would be a betrayal of our obligation as senators to undermine the Senate’s key role as a protector of minority rights.
“And I would just remind Democrats that back in 2017 they strongly agreed with our decision.
“I trust that their opinion has not changed simply because they are now in the majority.
“Mr. President, minority representation would be important even if elections tended to break 60-40 or 70-30 in favor of one party or another.
“All Americans deserve to be represented in government.
“But it’s particularly important when you consider that our country – and the Senate – is pretty evenly split down the middle.
“Which means any attempt to disenfranchise the minority party means disenfranchising half the country.
“While the far-left wing of the Democrat Party would like to use this election to implement every extreme, pie-in-the-sky socialist proposal on its list, that’s not what the American people voted for in this election.
“Americans voted for a presidential candidate historically regarded as a moderate.
“Democrats lost seats in the House of Representatives.
“And while thanks to the vice president they have a tie-breaking vote in the Senate, they did not actually win a majority of seats.
“My point, Mr. President, is that if any mandate was given in this election, it was a mandate for moderation.
“I hope Democrats remember that and resist calls from the far left to gut the Senate’s rules and fundamentally change the character of this institution.
“I still believe that we can come together in this Congress to address the challenges facing our country.
“But it’s going to require a lot more bipartisanship than we’re seeing from a lot of Democrats.”