“What’s been your favorite part of being a senator?”
It was an innocent enough question from my 11-year-old son, Michael, but I had to think about it.
I had been a United States senator for only six weeks at that point —an active participant in and an eager student of the surprisingly productive lame-duck session.
Though there were quite a few highlights for this particular freshman, casting my first vote for Delaware tops the list. It was on pay equity and —like so many others during those first few weeks— it failed to pass. An unfortunate casualty of a war on progress and an apt metaphor for my introduction to the Senate.
The last Congress might have been the most productive in memory, but it still fell significantly short of the expectations placed upon it by the American people. Too much legislation was left for dead because a week of floor time was needed to overcome the threat of a Republican filibuster, resulting in a troubling number of bills passed by the House with bipartisan support left unconsidered by the Senate.
I have great respect for the Senate and its procedures, but the filibuster has been changed from an important right of the minority into an instrument of abject obstructionism. There were more filibusters in the last four years than in the previous 60.
The rules reform proposal offered by my colleagues Sens. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) eliminates secret holds and redundant filibuster votes, while making it easier for the minority party to offer relevant amendments. The package is a sensible, fair set of changes that will reduce the partisan gridlock preventing us from doing the work that the people of this country elected us to do.
The challenges of the 112th Congress are too high for the mere threat of a filibuster to continue to paralyze the Senate.
There can be no higher priority for the Senate than getting people back to work in the United States. With unemployment at 9.4 percent and the federal debt at more than $14 trillion, it is critical that this new Congress focus on job creation, rein in expenditures and widen the tax base —getting people off of unemployment and into the workforce. The best way to increase federal revenue isn’t to increase people’s taxes but to get more Americans back to work.
Without seriously and directly addressing job creation, this Congress will have failed the American people —both those seeking work and those feeling the impact of high unemployment on their communities. We must fight for them and for the generations to come who will grapple with the long-term impacts of this tough recession.
Both parties must stop merely using the federal deficit as a talking point and start respecting it for what it is: a grave threat facing the long-term strength of our nation.
Trimming a program here and cutting a program there won’t close our deficit. I was the county executive of New Castle County for six years and we had balanced budgets in each and every one of them. We cracked down on wasteful spending and made tough choices. We took a balanced approach, and thanks to shared sacrifice, the county preserved its Triple A bond rating.
As a senator, I’m all for cutting waste and improving efficiency in the federal government, but for the type of change we need, we need to think more comprehensively and look at ways to simplify our sprawling tax system. We must take a hard look at defense spending and have a real debate on how we ensure our children will benefit from the Social Security and Medicare funds they will pay into for most of their lives.
Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner made the immediate threat quite clear: Failure to raise the debt ceiling would be catastrophic to the United States’s global financial position and cause damage worse than the financial crisis from which our nation is still trying to emerge.
We can and we must keep our focus on the financial challenges facing our nation and its citizens, so that the next time my son asks me about my favorite part of being a senator, I can describe with pride the success we’ve had getting people back to work and securing our future economy.
Sen. Coons is the freshman junior senator from Delaware.