Kill The Filibuster For A Kinder, Gentler GOP
The heart of the GOP’s power lies in the US Senate in a tool of obstruction called the filibuster.
I have noted in recent weeks, an uptick of opinion articles attacking the filibuster. More and more people are coming to realize that minority rule is not working for us. More and more people with influence and even some real power, are noticing that the filibuster has reduced the United States Senate into a boiling pot of disagreement where thousands of ideas worth trying, go to die. Some have even said that the Senate rules that give rise to the filibuster are unconstitutional.
I have also noticed something else. Several popular ideas, with widespread bipartisan support, are dead on arrival in the Senate due to the filibuster. Medicare for All is hugely popular with Americans but has no chance of passing the Senate with 60 votes or, nine more than the Democrats have right now. Infrastructure spending to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure has no chance in the Senate. Rewriting the rules so that we’re not ruled by Wall Street’s utopian life of peonage for us, has no chance in the Senate. In fact, anything that would help the current president in office has no chance of passing the Senate. Even Donald Trump wanted to kill the filibuster, but McConnell would not have it. The Senate is unable to govern any longer.
I note with interest, the recent fight over the filibuster, and how two intransigent Democrats, who should be primaried, Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) both have committed to voting against any rules changes that would remove the filibuster. They both claim that the filibuster is required for bipartisan action. These claims are hotly contested and there is virtually zero evidence to support them. There is nothing about the filibuster that is noble, and it does not encourage bipartisanship. The 400+ House bills piled up high without debate by the former Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell should make the burden imposed by the filibuster abundantly clear.
I see the reason that the most conservative Democrats in the Senate and every Republican opposes the demise of the filibuster: killing the filibuster would inspire compromise with liberals. Killing the filibuster would give comfort to the progressive liberal who has not been heard in the US Senate. Look, if you want comity in the Senate, the best way to get it is to remind conservatives that if you pass a really bad law, we’ll just change it the next time we get a majority. The knife cuts both ways. If your law is not so bad there won’t be much of an itch to change it after the next election.
But there is something else. It seems to me that the GOP is genuinely concerned that they will be relegated to a permanent minority, and I think they’re factoring the filibuster in their calculus. During the runoff elections in Georgia, I read several stories of prominent members of the GOP expressing worry that “if we lose both of those seats, the GOP will be relegated to permanent minority status…” Perhaps the GOP believes that they’d be related to permanent minority status if the GOP did not change their policy positions, and that is the reason why they don’t want to lose the filibuster. They don’t want to change. They want the rest of us to change for them. For if they lost the filibuster, they would have to appeal to a greater number of people or lose more seats in the Senate.
There is another purpose the GOP sees in the filibuster: making the Democrat presidents look bad. I clearly recall how many in the GOP wanted to make Barack Obama a one-term president. They filibustered his executive and judicial appointments, and much of his public policy agenda. They took up the unpopular position of birtherism, demanding Obama’s birth certificate. Yeah, those were happy days. That’s what they could do with the power of the filibuster.
The only way for the GOP to survive is to continue to make the Democrats fail since they have very few meaningful policy proposals that appeal to the majority of the people. They need the filibuster to make sure that progressive policy fails, and that they fail hard. They’ve been using the filibuster to drag America to the right for the last 40 years at the very least. Killing the filibuster would put an end to that trend.
Here are some examples to consider. Medicare For All polls well with Americans, but it’s DOA in the United States Senate. Marijuana legalization is DOA in the current Senate, but popular among the states. Infrastructure investments are dead in the Senate because both parties denied their opposing presidents the funding necessary to make that happen because, you know, that might make the other guy look good.
And if they’re so worried about debt, then they should turn the Fed into the world’s largest public bank, an idea that is also DOA in the Senate. We could do what North Dakota did, and create a public bank that actually serves the public interest by financing infrastructure for the people. Interest paid back on the loans would go into the public treasury, not some slush fund for a hedge fund manager living in a $200 million apartment in New York.
This is why the GOP needs the filibuster: to survive without changing. If they keep the filibuster, they can continue with their scorched earth policy of obstruction. If they lose the filibuster, and surely they will lose it, the GOP just changes. With any luck, the filibuster will be dead by 2023, when a new slate of Senators are voted in by people who are so very tired of GOP obstruction.
Then watch the compromise rise. Watch moderation set in as Senators realize that they can no longer impose a Senate Veto on a bill before even it’s even recorded in the Journal of the Senate. Watch conservatives demand less because they know that it could be changed in the next two years, anyway. Watch the Senate become more progressive as they begin to realize that the entire purpose of the filibuster was to protect a tiny minority of very wealthy people and landed people in the rentier class, who are enjoying their “free lunch”, from having their misappropriated wealth taxed away.
If we’re going to get along together, then we need a good reason to get along together. The filibuster gives far too much power to a tiny minority in Congress. That tiny minority is wealthy, has nearly zero shared interests with the common man or woman, and will have no need to compromise with anyone since they already have money. Lots and lots of money. Take away that filibuster power, and suddenly, compromise seems like a good idea.