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How the Senate Can Serve as a Model for America


Returning to regular order would also eliminate the recent requirement of a 60-vote “supermajority” for each procedural and substantive motion and vote for final passage. Under regular order, the 60-vote threshold would be reserved as originally intended — for closing extended debate of a real filibuster, not the mere threat of a faux filibuster.

Role models are respected for leading by example, and institutional role models are respected for engaging in self-evaluation as part of their commitment to refresh and improve their performance and accountability. Because it is the American public to which the Senate is accountable, a self-evaluation is imperative.

Last February, a group of 70 former senators, of which we were a part, publicly encouraged our successors to establish a bipartisan caucus that would examine and reform the current practices, procedures, norms and schedule of the Senate, in an effort to address the symptoms that have led to its abdication of core responsibilities and its obstructionist dysfunction.

In addition, a thorough self-evaluation would include consideration of ideas that enhance a culture of understanding and respect across the aisle and help set a tone of cooperation for the incoming 117th Senate. The experiences of our bipartisan group of 70 could be sources of recommendations, as could the suggestions contained in the Association of Former Members of Congress’s recent study, “Congress at a Crossroads.”

America’s public trust — the indispensable element of democracy’s survival — is shrinking. We urge the Senate of 2021 to step back from the dangerous scorched-earth partisanship of recent years and to step forward as an enlightened role model helping to lead America toward a more civil and respectful society and, thus, “a more perfect union.”

Jack Danforth, a Republican, represented Missouri in the Senate from 1976 to 1995. Chris Dodd, a Democrat, represented Connecticut in the Senate from 1981 to 2011. Chuck Hagel, a Republican, represented Nebraska in the Senate from 1997 to 2009. Paul Kirk, a Democrat, represented Massachusetts in the Senate from 2009 to 2010.

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