Santorum Says the Popular Election of Senators Led to Big Government

January 18, 2012 - 6:55 AM

Santorum 2012

Republican presidential candidate former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum waits to make remarks as he is introduced during a campaign event at Tommy's Ham House, Saturday, Jan. 14, 2012, during a campaign event in Greenville, S.C. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Columbia, S.C. (CNSNews.com) – Republican presidential contender Rick Santorum says the amendment allowing for the direct, popular election of U.S. senators led to a growth in government.

“The Founders actually had a mechanism to keep government limited, and we got rid of it 100 years ago, and it was called the 17th Amendment,” Santorum, a former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania, said at a presidential candidates’ forum sponsored by the South Carolina Business and Industrial Political Education Committee.

“I’m not for repealing the 17th Amendment, but the 17th Amendment fundamentally changed the way Washington operated, and we really haven’t recovered since,” Santorum said on Tuesday.

The 17th Amendment says in part, “The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each state, elected by the people thereof, for six years; and each Senator shall have one vote.”

The 17th Amendment was formally adopted in 1913, after passing Congress in 1912 and being ratified by the states. It amended Article 1, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution that said U.S. senators were to be selected by state legislators.

“United States senators used to be appointed by the legislature and governor of the states and therefore were there to represent the interests of the states,” Santorum said. “Of course, the interest of the states was to keep Washington small. When we went to the popular election of senators, that changed.”

Santorum said that popularly elected senators – acting in their own interests – weakened the filibuster by voting in 1975 to allow 60 senators to cut off debate. Before 1975, Senate rules required 67 votes to invoke cloture.

“Sixty senators is what you need to end debate and pass a bill,” Santorum said. He noted that three times in American history, that 60-vote hurdle has worked for Democratic super-majorities, which were able to pass their big-government programs without being hindered by a Republican filibuster.

Santorum listed the three extraordinary circumstances as passage of the New Deal policies under President Franklin Roosevelt, passage of the Great Society welfare policies under President Lyndon B. Johnson, and most recently, passage of the $1 trillion health care overhaul under President Barack Obama.

“Three times in history Democrats had that kind of power and three times they explode the size and the scale of government,” Santorum said. “Never once have the Republicans had more than 55 votes in the United States Senate. As a result we haven’t had the ability to really do the dramatic changes necessary.”

Santorum said a Balanced Budget Amendment to the Constitution, which would cap spending at 18 percent of the gross domestic product,  is necessary to restore limits on what government can do.

He said a Balanced Budget Amendment would have a “healing effect” on earlier changes to the Constitution.

“That will do something our Founders intended us to do, which is to grantee freedom. If government is limited, you will be free,” Santorum said.