Filibuster  —  Keep it or kill it?

Clearly, passionate supporters and detractors abound.  But can we sift through all the noise and learn something?  Read on.

Who opposes the filibuster and why?  Frustration is running rampant among Democrats.  Repeatedly thwarted by Senate Republican use of the filibuster, the Democrats have been unable to bring their favored legislative initiatives to the floor for a vote.  Particularly galling has been the Republican’s successful blocking of the Democrats’ proposal to create a commission to investigate the January 6th assault on the capitol. 


How could Senate Democrats overcome the Republicans?  Senate rules specify that a filibuster can be broken by a procedure known as “Cloture.”  Cloture was originally incorporated by the Senate in 1917 and required that two thirds of the Senate vote to end filibuster.  That number was reduced to sixty percent (60 Senators, called a “super majority”) in 1975. 


That has brought little comfort to President Biden.  In his first press conference, Biden spoke out against Republican use of the filibuster.  “It (the filibuster) is being abused in a gigantic way.”  He went on to urge that Senate rules be changed to make it more difficult to use the tactic. 

But hold on a minute.  As a Senator in 2015, Biden strongly supported the filibuster, saying that to weaken it “is not only a bad idea, it upsets the constitutional design and it disservices the country.” 


Not only is the filibuster permitted under the current Standing Rules of The Senate, but it has been aggressively employed by Democrats in the past.  During 2020, Trump’s last year in office, the Republicans employed the filibuster once.  During that same period, the Democrats used the tactic 327 times. 


President Biden is not the only one to have a change of heart.  Senate majority leader, Chuck Schummer, is equally conflicted.  In 2017 he asserted that 

“The legislative filibuster….is the most important distinction between the Senate and the House.  Without the 60-vote threshold, the Senate becomes a majoritarian institution like the House, much more subject to the winds of short-term electoral change.  No Senator would like to see that happen.” 


With an increasing number of Democrats calling for an elimination of the filibuster, Schumer has come under intense pressure to abandon his support for the tactic. 


Senator Elizabeth Warren, citing a number of progressive initiatives, reportedly said “If we want to deliver on our promises, we have got to be willing to get out there and fight for it, and that starts with getting rid of the filibuster.” 


Schumer’s response?  “If they (the Republicans) don’t work with us, our caucus will come together and we will discuss the best way to produce that big bold action and as I’ve said before everything, everything is on the table.”  Nice dance but the message is clear. 


So, what is the take-away?  Put aside your interest in any of today’s policy issues.  Suspend for the moment how you feel about the filibuster.  What have we learned? 


One lesson stands out: politicians will screech loudly to abandon the filibuster one day, only to argue strenuously for its retention the next.  Politicians sole interest is to advance their agenda as it exists today.  They have no interest in intellectual integrity. 




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