What’s at stake if Democrats don’t kill the filibuster

For years now, Republicans have practiced scorched-earth politics. In 2009, when America faced its worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, their goal was not to help newly-elected President Obama save the economy, but make his presidency a failure. Since then, their legislative policy has been unabated obstructionism. This threatens to make our country ungovernable.

The Senate filibuster isn’t enshrined in the Constitution, or federal law; it exists as a Senate rule that can be changed or abolished by a simple majority of senators. In its present form, it enables a small minority to thwart the wishes of the majority of American people.

I say “small” because, while the Senate is closely divided, the electorate isn’t. Although the Senate is evenly divided, the 50 Democratic senators were elected with 40 million more votes than the 50 Republican senators.

Democrats shouldn’t concern themselves with retaliation. If the situation were reversed, McConnell wouldn’t hesitate to abolish the filibuster the moment doing so was to his party’s advantage. There’s no gentlemen’s understanding to retain it, and even if there were, Republicans wouldn’t honor it. As the last few years have demonstrated, there’s no reciprocity or comity in the Senate anymore. It’s all ruthless Machiavellian politics now.

The public overwhelmingly supports raising the federal minimum wage, stuck at $7.25 an hour since 2009, but given a brick wall of Republican opposition, that’s going nowhere unless the filibuster is either sidestepped or done away with. The former option evaporated when the Senate parliamentarian stripped the minimum wage rider from the Covid-19 relief package.

Even Covid relief wouldn’t pass without a filibuster exemption (under the budget reconciliation process), because Republicans, after delaying Covid relief for months last year, still refuse to support any Covid relief except on their terms. This isn’t about negotiation or compromise; when a covey of GOP senators met with President Biden at the White House to discuss the relief bill, they presented him with a take-it-or-leave it proposal.

Among other things, Republicans are still adamantly and fiercely opposed to giving any federal money to struggling state and local governments, which have not only suffered severe revenue losses because of the pandemic, but also face ballooning expenses for making schools safe, distributing vaccines, and the like.

The bottom line is the filibuster is a zip-tie handcuff on the ability of the majority to govern. If “filibuster rules remain intact, [b]ills to protect and expand voting rights, prohibit discrimination against LGBTQ people, enact immigration reforms, improve health care access, implement new environmental regulations [and] advance many other key parts of President Joe Biden’s agenda will die in the Senate, even if a majority of Americans and a majority of senators support them.” (Quoted from Huffington Post; read article here.)

There may be fallout, and even unforeseen consequences, from ending the filibuster. If minimum wage was the only issue, it might not be worth the cost. But this affects everything. Republicans lost the White House, Senate, and House elections, and they simply can’t be allowed to dictate the nation’s legislative agenda at this point.

Most of all, Congress needs the ability to keep Republicans from taking away the people’s right to vote, and stop gerrymandered and unrepresentative state legislatures from empowering themselves to ignore the voters and reverse election results. Right now, as I write these words, GOP legislatures across the country are enacting hundreds of bills to disenfranchise voters and entrench minority rule.

The GOP has abused their minority veto, and it’s time to take it away. There’s no fairness issue here; if this shuts them out of the legislative process, they asked for it, and they deserve it.

An alternative that stops short of outright abolition is to make them actually filibuster. That is, to block legislation, they have to stand up and talk, and talk, and keep talking, until Kingdom come. And if they run out of gas, and stop talking, the filibuster ends and a vote is taken. That’s how it used to be done. There’s no reason it can’t be done again, except who wants to listen to what they would say, if they had unlimited time to say it?

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  1. Mark S Adams #

    The Senate is not really about the will of the people. Senators should be concerned about the will and importance to the states they represent. To the interests of those states legislatures than the people. Each and every state is equal in the Senate regardless of population, and this favors states with small populations, and perhaps the filibuster represents the true interests of the institution, which is to be somewhat insulated from the hurly-burly of the masses … and the majority must at least hear the minority out. [This comment has been edited.]

  2. Roger Rabbit #

    Even though the Framers didn’t have enough faith in democracy to trust the people to elect senators, I don’t think it was ever their intent that senators would represent the legislatures that appointed them; they believed legislators were positioned to choose the best candidates to represent the people. And while they were leery of “tyranny of the majority,” they didn’t intend to create an elitist system of minority rule, but only one of checks and balances and protections for individual rights.