On Senator Judd Gregg’s Ahistory Lesson

Dear Senator Judd Gregg:

I read with some interest your recent comments on the Founding Fathers and the need for supermajority votes in the United States Senate. I believe you said:

The Founding Fathers realized when they structured this they wanted checks and balances. They didn’t want things rushed through. They saw the parliamentary system. They knew it didn’t work. So they set up the place, as George Washington described it, where you take the hot coffee out of the cup and you pour it into the saucer and you let it cool a little bit and you let people look at it and make sure it’s done correctly. That’s why we have the 60-vote situation over here in the Senate to require that things get full consideration.

I find this rather interesting.

First, I was unaware that President Washington drank his coffee from a saucer and not a cup. I personally drink a great deal of coffee, and I would never have thought about drinking it from a saucer. Indeed, I’m not even sure that I have a saucer. Which is probably a good thing, because I really do enjoy drinking coffee out of a mug; it might take two dozen saucers of coffee to make the equivalent of a single mug.

And second, if the Founding Fathers wanted supermajorities in the Senate, why would the Constitution give the Vice President the power to break tie votes? Under a supermajority system, there would never be a tie vote for the Vice President to have to break. And, it occurs to me, how is it that John Adams, one of those Founding Fathers, cast twenty-nine tie-breaking votes in his eight years as Vice President?

E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post makes this point:

Hatch grandly cited “America’s Founders” as wanting the Senate to be about “deliberation.” But the Founders said nothing in the Constitution about the filibuster, let alone “reconciliation.” Judging from what they put in the actual document, the Founders would be appalled at the idea that every major bill should need the votes of three-fifths of the Senate to pass.

I think, Senator Gregg, that if we are to look to the Founding Fathers, we should actually look at what they did. Not what you think they did, when they didn’t actually do that.

After all, Senator, when you wanted a vote on drilling in Alaska for oil, this is what you said: “Is there something wrong with majority rules? I don’t think so.”

So, unless the ghosts of George Washington and James Madison magically appeared to you just now, I think your history lesson is bunkum.

Sincerely,

Someone with a grasp of history

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