The Filibuster is Going Away
The writing is on the wall for simple-majority voting in the Senate.
The Senate Majority Leader is issuing a dire warning that will not be heeded, at least partly because of his own abuses of power.
NBC/Yahoo News (“McConnell warns Democrats about changing Senate rules to kill the filibuster“):
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has a message for Democrats: Don’t end the legislative filibuster if you win control, or you’ll regret it.
“The important thing for our Democratic friends to remember is you may not be in total control in the future. And any time you start fiddling around with the rules of the Senate you always need to put yourself in the other fellow’s shoes and just imagine what might happen when the winds shift,” the Kentucky Republican told reporters on Tuesday.
McConnell called on “responsible Democratic senators” not to be “stampeded by the hard left” and preserve “the one institution that guaranteed that America stayed in the middle of the road.”
Were these remarks coming in a vacuum, or maybe fifteen years ago, that would have been a very compelling case. Indeed, it’s one I’ve often made myself: we should avoid making major policy shifts on razor-thin margins. The filibuster, rarely and judiciously used, requires consensus-building.
But, of course, it has become something else entirely. Harry Reid used it routinely to stop Bush Administration policies, essentially making 60 votes for all legislation the normal order. McConnell naturally upped the game when the tables turned. Eventually, Reid would do away with the filibuster for judicial nominees except for the Supreme Court and, predictably, McConnell did so for the Supreme Court. (I supported both of those, having the longstanding position that the filibuster should not be used for Presidential appointees.)
In that environment, the anti-filibuster argument is rather powerful.
McConnell’s remarks come as Democrats debate among themselves whether to preserve the super-majority requirement to pass legislation if they win control of the White House and Congress this fall and their agenda is obstructed. Numerous progressive activists, as well as former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., support its abolition.
Democrats who favor the change, including potential vice presidential contender Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., say the 60-vote rule gives a minority of senators a permanent veto that makes progressive governance impossible, particularly given the structure of the Senate that gives small red states like Idaho and Wyoming the same representation as large blue states like California and New York.
“If Mitch McConnell is going to do to the next Democratic president what he did to President Obama, and that is try to block every single thing he does, then we are going to roll back the filibuster,” Warren said during a presidential primary debate in late February.
While I can preach this one either way, I think Warren has the better argument here. The Electoral College and Senate already give Republican-leaning states outsized representation, diluting the voting power of Democrats. It takes a perfect storm like 2008 to give Democrats any chance at all at a filibuster-proof majority.
Still, as shrewdly and shamelessly as McConnell has wielded power, he didn’t eliminate the filibuster over ordinary legislation in the early part of Donald Trump’s presidency, when Republicans held the White House, House of Representatives, and the Senate and could therefore have rammed through anything they wanted. He did in fact take a longer view.
But other Democrats like the power it affords them to shape and block legislation while in the minority, with some of them holding more centrist views, such as Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V.
Still, Democrats are hungry for big changes and are unlikely to be patient if they take all the reins of power.
The debate was reignited recently after Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., a moderate ally of Biden who has supported the filibuster, told Politico he’s open to abolishing it. “I will not stand idly by for four years and watch the Biden administration’s initiatives blocked at every turn,” he said.
A Biden campaign spokesman didn’t immediately return a request for comment on whether he would support or oppose a Democratic effort to abolish the 60-vote threshold for legislation.
Of course, this all depends on a true blue wave in November, which is possible but hardly assured. The question is moot unless the Democrats have 51 votes in the Senate. And, even then, there’s no assurance that the red-state Democrats who would be necessary for that eventuality will go along with ending a legislative practice that has mostly redounded to their benefit.