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Weekly Column: A Visit to Offutt, A Word on Rules by Deb Fischer


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Recently, members of my state staff and I visited Offutt Air Force Base, which serves as home to the U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM). We began the visit to Offutt with a discussion of the 55th Wing with Colonel John Rauch. The "Fightin' Fifty-Fifth" operates a variety of aircraft to conduct operations from Offutt and other locations around the world. I was very impressed with the fine work they do and I am grateful for their service.

At STRATCOM, we met with the General Kehler, who provided us with an overview of the facility and answered questions on range of topics, including the need to modernize our nuclear weapons and the dangerous impact of possible defense cuts. While STRATCOM has helped to generate economic growth in the Omaha area, it is important not to lose sight of the critical national security work this command performs each and every day. As General Kehler noted at the meeting, "the world's security issues are STRATCOM's security issues."

As a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, it is necessary for me to visit these facilities and meet with their leaders to learn about the work they are doing. It is equally important that we provide proper oversight to ensure that taxpayer funds are spent appropriately and missions are fulfilled. I look forward to visiting other locations and towns back home in Nebraska in the coming weeks when I return from Washington.

It's hard to believe that it has only been three weeks since I took the oath of office. The Senate is a unique legislative body that was designed so that states might compete on an equal playing field in policy discussions, regardless of their size. A state like Nebraska with a relatively small population has just as much power as a more populous state like California. In addition, the rules of the Senate have always given both parties the rights to debate and to amend legislation, assuring that the voices of all citizens are heard regardless of who is in power.

However, the Senate has changed in recent years. Under current Senate leadership, senators from both parties have been unable to offer amendments to legislation and instead of writing bills in committees and working toward a bipartisan consensus like we do in Nebraska, the committee process has largely been ignored here in Washington. Without the ability to craft legislation in committees, or to amend it, a senator has no legislative power except for the ability to debate. That's why the filibuster, or the right to debate, is so important.

Some of my colleagues are working to change the rules of the Senate by diluting the power of the filibuster. Nebraskans know that the filibuster ensures that the views of the minority are heard; many have called my office to express this opinion. While I agree that the Senate must become more functional, I do not believe the solution is to destroy the very character of the institution, which was purposefully designed by our Founding Fathers.

When the Constitution was drafted, Thomas Jefferson was overseas serving as an ambassador. After he returned, Jefferson questioned George Washington about the role of the Senate. In response, Washington posed a question: "Why did you pour that tea into your saucer," he asked. "To cool it," said Jefferson. "Even so we pour legislation into the senatorial saucer to cool it," concluded Washington. The Senate, then, was designed as a deliberative body to produce thoughtful policy.

The solution to Senate gridlock is not changing the rules, or shattering the "cooling saucer." Rather, we must follow the rules by allowing senators to engage in the legislative process. Committees must hold hearings and draft legislation; senators must debate and amend legislation; the senate must pass a budget and set national priorities. That's what we were elected to do.

It's pretty simple: we just have to do our jobs. And I pledge to you I will.

Thank you for taking part in our democratic process, and I'll visit with you again next week.

Deb Fischer

United States Senator

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