Note To Dems: Be Careful With Filibuster

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The filibuster is one of those things that’s been part of the legislative process for a while. There are two kinds, really. One is where a speaker just takes the floor to speak and just doesn’t stop for hours and hours. Until they yield the floor, they have it and can keep on going indefinitely as long as their personal stamina holds out.

These are freaking epic.

The other is what we talk about happening in the Senate, where the minority can simply resist legislation by not letting it get voted on. This has kept a lot of bills Democrats want from seeing the light of day, thankfully.

However, many have talked about killing it. They’re still talking about it.

From multiple directions, the crisis over the filibuster is peaking for Democrats.

In just the past week, the casualty count of Democratic priorities doomed by the filibuster has mounted; both police and immigration reform now appear to be blocked in the Senate, and legislation codifying abortion rights faces equally dim prospects. Simultaneously, the party has tied itself in knots attempting to squeeze its economic agenda into a single, sprawling “reconciliation” bill, because that process offers the only protection against a GOP filibuster. Meanwhile, legislation establishing a new federal floor for voting rights, the party’s top priority after the reconciliation bill, remains stalled in the Senate under threat of another GOP filibuster. And then, this week, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell raised the temperature even higher by leading a Republican filibuster that has blocked Democratic efforts to raise the nation’s debt ceiling.

“On voting rights, budget and reconciliation, potential economic calamity [over the debt ceiling]—this is a very clarifying few weeks,” says Eli Zupnick, a spokesperson for Fix Our Senate, a liberal group advocating for ending the filibuster. “Our hope is this will culminate in Democrats finally realizing they cannot keep preserving this weapon that McConnell can use to derail their agenda and hurt President Biden’s ability to govern.”

But the Senate filibuster looms as the biggest obstacle to the broadest range of Democratic priorities. Even if the party ultimately coalesces behind a robust reconciliation bill, failing to confront the filibuster guarantees that it will head into the 2022 midterm elections without the legislative progress Biden promised on issues as central to core Democratic constituencies as immigration, police reform, voting rights, gun control, raising the minimum wage, and safeguarding abortion and LGBTQ rights. That prospect is drawing stark warnings from groups that helped mobilize the massive turnout in 2020 that gave Democrats unified control of Washington in the first place.

Yes, the filibuster really does allow Republicans to keep the Democrat’s agenda in check. I’m quite sure that’s absolutely awful for Democrats and I understand why they want to see the filibuster die and ignoble death.

They just really shouldn’t be too hasty.

See, the filibuster is a tool for the minority. That’s any minority, not just a GOP minority. While I understand that Democrats seem to think they’ll always be in power, they won’t be. At some point, the GOP will have control of not just the Senate, but the House and White House again.

Do Democrats really want to be without the filibuster then?

Yes, right now they’re lamenting their inability to ram gun control down our throats, but they really need to think longer-term than just the next six months. They need to imagine a time when they’re in the minority and the GOP wants to do something they don’t want to see happen like a corporate tax cut.

If they even could repeal the filibuster, doing so might end up allowing a short-term gain for a long-term loss. Anything they passed now could be repealed later and without the filibuster, they’d be powerless to stop it. Plus, Republicans could run the table and Democrats would be left shaking their heads at their short-sightedness.

So really, it’s time to knock off the filibuster talk. It’s a bad idea no matter which party is making the comment.

Nov 26, 2021 10:30 AM ET