2:53 p.m., March 9, 2011----Delivering a speech inspired by a recent article in the New Yorker -- “The Empty Chamber: Just How Broken is the Senate?” -- Edward E. “Ted” Kaufman, former U.S. Senator from Delaware and longtime adviser to Joseph Biden, offered his own assessment of the issue by debunking 10 myths that the Senate is broken.
Speaking to a packed room in Gore Hall Tuesday night on issues that included partisan animosity, filibusters, and the deficit battle, Kaufman tackled the common criticisms faced by the Senate while highlighting the accomplishments of the most recent 111th Congress.
Kaufman rattled off a long list of bills that have been passed, including the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (“something just about every president has tried to pass”), reauthorization of children's health insurance program, and all budget, appropriations, and jobs bills.
“It doesn't sound broken to me,” he said, although he agreed that there are some large flaws, particularly in the area of campaign financing.
“One thing I would do if I were in Congress is implement meaningful campaign finance laws,” he said. “Nobody donates like the companies with an economic interest.”
Still, Kaufman spent the majority of his lecture refuting “common myths that the Senate is broken.”
Challenging the idea that the filibuster is not in the American tradition, he argued, “Democracy is not about majorities. What makes America great is that we protect political minorities. What makes this country great is that there's a political minority that people have to listen to.”
Of the deficit battle, Kaufman offered a simple explanation, pointing to “two heroes” as an example:
President George H.W. Bush abandoned his “read my lips -- no more taxes” slogan in the face of the 1992 deficit only to lose reelection, and Bill Clinton passed the largest tax increase in history in 1994, boosting the economy but losing Democratic control of both the House and Senate.
“People don't want to deal with the deficit because you'll get in trouble if you do,” he said, “but we've reached a point where it can't be ignored.”
Article by Artika Rangan
Photo by Doug Baker