It's time to end the filibuster
In the 2020 presidential election, more than 159 million people cast their ballots. After every ballot was counted and a special Senate election was held in Georgia, Joseph R. Biden was declared the 46th president of the United States and the Democractic Party retained control of the House of Representatives, and, following a runoff election in Georgia, gained control of the Senate. With a Democratic majority in Congress, constituents expected the Democratic Party to pass the sweeping legislation it had promised and voters had voted for. However, even with control of the executive and legislative branches, Democrats face an uphill battle in passing any of their promised legislation. A simple Senate procedural rule stands in the way of the result of the largest Democratic election ever held in the United States. The rule is called the filibuster, and it has a long history of subversion.
Simply put, the filibuster is a Senate rule that allows for a senator to delay the voting of a bill by debating until a 60-seat Senate majority votes to end the filibuster. It applies to all bills other than those that deal with non-discretionary spending or when a specified process called budget reconciliation occurs. The filibuster’s origin is as foolish as the rule itself. Contrary to popular belief, the filibuster was not created by the framers of the Constitution. Rather, it was created in 1806 when Vice President Andrew Burr asked the Senate to make their rule book simpler. In the process of creating a more concise rule book, Senators omitted key parts from the old rulebook that made the filibuster possible. However, it was not until the Civil Rights Movement that the filibuster gained prominence. Most notably, in 1964 Dixie Democrats filibustered the Civil Rights Act for over 75 days. Presently, filibusters have become even more noticeable, as party polarization has exploded with 386 closure votes (votes to end a filibuster) occurring from 2013 to 2018 compared to the mere 60 closure votes from 1917 to 1970.
The filibuster is a tool of obstruction that weakens democracy. It allows a minority in the Senate to make the majority beholden to its will. This can be further exacerbated when a party holds control of both houses in the legislature. The filibuster paralyzes the Senate and renders the House mute due to the fact it cannot pass any legislation without the Senate. The filibuster creates a tyranny of the minority by allowing a small group of 40 representatives to stop most major legislation from passing. This situation is not merely hypothetical; the filibuster, as previously stated, is frequently used by the minority to stop the majority party from expressing its will. It could be argued that if the American people wanted a party to pass its platform unchallenged, they would award them 60 seats. This statement is unrealistic, since it ignores the high amount of polarization in the United States, making a 60-seat majority Senate practically impossible. Furthermore, it is absurd to believe a party must gain a supermajority to pass its will. I ask, is it truly a democratic system when popular will can be frozen with ease and into perpetuity?
Although the filibuster is proven to weaken democracy, many argue for it to remain a staple of the Senate. Both Democrats and Republicans worry that without the filibuster, the dominant party will enact radical change. Democratic supporters of the filibuster point to the fact that it would be a dangerous tool if Republicans regain the majority in both houses. While this is certainly true, it does not change the fact that no matter who is in charge, neither Democrats nor Republicans will be able to pass their desired legislation. Democrats should not sacrifice passing urgent legislation such as protecting voting rights because they anticipate that the end of the filibuster will allow future Republicans to pass their legislation.
Furthermore, the filibuster will always favor Republicans since it is a measure to stop change. According to Sarah Binder, a political scientist at George Washington University, “it’s in the Democrats’ interest to get rid of the filibuster because they’re more likely to pursue activist solutions to policy problems.” The Democratic Party platform is about pursuing massive change. Even President Biden, who represented a more moderate wing of the Democratic Party, is proposing radically transformative legislation. The Republican Party, on the other hand, has mostly favored maintaining the status quo in line with its conservative roots, and some of the party’s favored legislation such as tax cuts are immune to filibuster already.
Even after illustrating that the filibuster is anti-democratic and has a less than glorious history in the United States, its proponents will support it by claiming it reflects the heart of the Senate. These proponents will argue that the filibuster allows senators to have robust debates on an issue and makes sure that all senators' voices are heard. The idea that the filibuster is some great debate-igniter ignores reality. The filibuster does not create debates; it is simply a tool to kill a bill if the party introducing it does not have 60 votes. The filibuster, like most things in politics, is used as a partisan tool to ensure that one side comes out on top.
The filibuster has stopped and continues to stop popular and vital legislation from passing in the Senate. It's time to do away with the filibuster so that the will of voters is not paralyzed by an archaic and accidental Senate procedural rule.
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