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The filibuster should be a goner. Good riddance.
This anti-majoritarian rule in the U.S. Senate allows 41 senators to block most legislative proposals with certain exceptions.
It’s one tool that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell used to stymie President Barack Obama for eight years and, given early indications on both legislation and appointments, a tool that Republicans likely will use again in an attempt to derail Joe President Biden’s policy agenda.
There are hurdles, of course, to ending the filibuster. The president himself has been reluctant to support tossing the filibuster onto the rubbish heap, and a few of the more conservative Democratic members of the Senate have said loudly that they will stop any effort to eliminate the archaic rule.
But pressure is building and will continue to build.
Biden appears to have learned the lesson from the Obama years. While he wants to try to bridge the gap between Democrats and Republicans and is conducting his administration with deference to Congress and minority Republicans, my prediction is that patience will only go so far.
Consider the non-starter negotiations on a COVID-19 relief package. Biden met with a group of senators, including Maine Sen. Susan Collins, to hear their proposal. It was a bust. The gap between the two proposals was enormous. Republicans offered a third of the president’s plan and left out major priorities of the president.
Democrats then began the process of using a procedure called reconciliation that allows a limited number of bills to pass the Senate without being subject to the filibuster.
Biden has demonstrated that he wants to negotiate, that he wants to work together with Republicans, but he’s also shown he’s not willing to wait forever on matters of urgency.
And after four years of President Donald Trump, the list of urgent matters is long.
COVID-19 relief, immigration, voting rights, climate action, non-discrimination protections are issues that are all on their way to the Senate.
Democrats were elected promising to fix problems and right wrongs; it’s inconceivable to me that they will allow that aggressive, thoughtful agenda to crash onto the rocks of the filibuster in the Senate.
Consider the Equality Act, which would codify nationwide protections for LGBTQ people, ensuring that they cannot be discriminated against in areas of employment, housing, credit and other federally funded programs. The bill has passed the U.S. House of Representatives in other years. This year’s version has bipartisan support in the House and will pass.
Then it will go to the Senate.
And there it will likely sit as long as the filibuster continues.
Legislation to fight climate change, reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, voting rights protections, electoral reform, legislation to reduce the influence of money in politics, efforts to increase access to affordable health care will follow.
Those initiatives will continue to stack up — waiting for a compromise that may never come from a minority that has demonstrated that it believes obstruction is the easiest path back to power.
I can’t predict the breaking point. I don’t know when Sen. Joe Manchin, a conservative Democrat from West Virginia, or Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona will change their minds or have a piece of legislation that’s personally important to them get bottled up in the dysfunction, but I believe the point will, in fact, come.
Even for those members of Congress who I disagree with, I believe that they run and are elected to public office because they want to accomplish things for their constituents, their states and their country.
The filibuster is standing in the way. It’s a relic and the clock is ticking on its future unless Republicans change course.
If the filibuster is to survive, its only savior might be the return of earmarks — a process that allows members of Congress to bring home federal investment for specific projects that are tucked into legislation.
Money can’t solve every problem, but it can buy you a boat and it might be able to get you to 60 votes in the Senate. The country is demanding action from the government; if the filibuster stands in the way, it can’t survive.