The One-Way Filibuster

Huh. If we kill the filibuster, only progressive liberal laws will be repealed. Neat.

I can recall the warnings of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell about the filibuster. I remember how dire they were. He seems absolutely sure that if Democrats abolished the filibuster, which is *unconstitutional* anyway, that millions would suffer at the hands of Republican lawmakers once they get a majority in both houses of Congress again. Did I say that? I did. I think McConnell was warning against wild swings in public policy.

If we listen to the institutionalists, they will tell us that without the filibuster, the country will endure wild policy swings, creating uncertainty for businesses and for people who depend upon a stable law to plan their affairs. The fear we’re supposed to hold dear to our brains is that without the filibuster, a new law will be passed with popular support, only to be repealed two years later with the next Congress. The GOP with its majority in Congress will use its majority power to wipe out liberal bills. Then two years later, a Democrat Congress repeals the GOP laws. I’ve had people, tell me the same thing in comments to my articles. How awful that would be!

It’s like they think that with the filibuster, our nation would be more stable. Look around, folks. Have you enjoyed the news lately? I think we’re on track to set a new record for mass shootings this year. You can thank the filibuster for that. How about police shootings? They’re still trending up, and that’s with the filibuster in place. Riots? whoever said they would chill out with the filibuster was wrong. How about inequality? Billionaire wealth went up 27% just during the pandemic alone. Such a sweet filibuster. Medical bankruptcies continue to climb during the pandemic, too. Love, love, love! that filibuster! Shall I go on?

Sure. Let’s look at the past 40 years when the abuse of the filibuster began to take root. Neoliberal snobs took to the filibuster like ants that walked off with the birthday cake at the picnic. It’s almost as if the wealthy decided that they couldn’t get their way with legislation, so they decided to fund candidates that would filibuster to prevent the country from getting any more progressive.

Do you remember the years from 1947 to 1974? I don’t, but history shows us that compared to now, the economy was relatively stable during those years. Since 2001, we’ve had 3 events that put millions of people out of work. 9/11, the collapse of the housing bubble, and the pandemic. I remember how former Treasury Secretary Merril Lynch CEO Don Regan told a president to speed it up, and all of us that Reaganomics was going to be so great for all of us. Did that 27% increase in billionaire wealth trickle down your leg, Senator Joe Manchin?

Joe Manchin is one of the staunchest supporters of the filibuster. He sincerely believes that we need the filibuster to ensure that the minority party in Congress is heard. Well, they have been heard. The public policy decisions that have been made for the last 40 years have shifted to the right. The “I, me, mine” generation got what they wanted. They got to keep more of their money to make those vanity purchases that John Stuart Mills warned us about. They got to cut those bad government taxes but didn’t notice that industries like big pharma, banking, real estate, and insurance scooped up much of that extra money for themselves. You know, like private taxes.

But I’m still thinking of those warnings from Mitch McConnell. It’s interesting that he’d go through so much trouble to warn us of the perils of abolishing a senate tradition that has no real basis in law or in the history of nations. The Associated Press reported the following comments from the Mouth of Mitch:

Let me say this very clearly for all 99 of my colleagues: Nobody serving in this chamber can even begin — can even begin to imagine — what a completely scorched earth Senate would look like.

I’ve even seen some Republicans warn us that if we lose the filibuster, that popular legislation like the Social Security Act, the Voting Rights Act, the Civil Rights Act, and other progressive laws that have stood the test of time, will be repealed in a session of the Senate with a Republican majority. But few of those same Republicans will bother to mention that those acts were passed before the abuse of the filibuster rose to present levels. The filibuster hardly ever made the front page of the news before 1970. Now the term is a household word.

But there is something else. McConnell and other Republicans don’t like to talk about this or they would talk it up more. Consider the possibility that if you pass a law just to score points with your base, the law annoys your opposition to the point that the opposition will get really organized. They will elect people to represent their views and they will work to repeal a law made to insult their opposition. Yes, there may be a scorched earth Senate for a time, but passing legislation only to have it repealed in the next term is tiring. Why I think that the lack of a filibuster would even have a moderating effect on the kinds of laws that would make it to the president’s desk. What is composed must decompose. What is done can be undone.

We have become used to living in a world where once one faction passes a law we don’t like we can’t undo it. The filibuster has a tendency to make bad laws permanent. That’s what the filibuster does. Everyone makes mistakes. Imagine that you made a mistake and you can’t fix it later. Ever order something in a restaurant by mistake? They usually let you fix it, don’t they? Imagine that you can’t return that thing you thought would fit so well, even if you bought it from Amazon. The filibuster is like that. The filibuster makes it very hard to fix our legislative mistakes.

But the keen observer will have noticed that with the rise in the abuse of the filibuster, our public policy choices have been shifting far to the right for the last 40 years. Has anyone else but me noticed that the GOP has held the White House more than Democrats? Filibuster. Has anyone else noticed that during the last 40 years, the GOP has sidelined the Democrats in a majority of the statehouses in this fair union? Filibuster. Now compare that to the 40 years before 1974, before the filibuster became the fad that it is now.

Every system seeks equilibrium. The filibuster is against equilibrium, and it’s for gridlock and rigid thinking. The filibuster has utterly failed to provide America with the flexibility we needed to respond to changing circumstances, to provide that peace and tranquility promised in the Constitution. The filibuster is a mere Senate rule, and there is no provision for it anywhere in the Constitution.

So if you want to see more chaos, keep the filibuster. If you want to see greater polarization of Americans, keep the filibuster. If you don’t mind an upward trend in police shootings and mass shootings, keep the filibuster. And if a 27% increase in billionaire wealth during a deep recession isn’t enough for you, keep the filibuster. But if you want our Congress to be in a better position to adapt to our changing circumstances — you know, like pandemics — kill the filibuster.

Write on.

Husband, father, worker, philosopher, and observer. Plumbing the depths of consciousness to find the spring of happiness. Write on.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store