The Filibuster Hypocrisy

To say that there is hypocrisy in Washington politics is like saying the sun will come up tomorrow.  It is a given.

Politicians often twist themselves into pretzel-like logic to justify their positions.  And they are pretty good at it—probably because of all the practice—which is why many of the incumbents continue to get re-elected.

The latest example of blatant hypocrisy is the debate over the filibuster, the Senate rule which requires 60 votes, rather than a simple majority, for most every piece of legislation.

Leading Senate Democrats are earnestly opining that our democracy is in danger because Democratic Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona are standing with Republicans in opposing elimination of the filibuster.

But it was not very long ago that those same Democratic critics of the filibuster were on the opposite side.

The Fix, a political blog in the Washington Post, researched and found that of the 45 Democratic Senators who have called for changing or eliminating the filibuster over the last year, “39 defended the legislative filibuster or their use of the filibuster to stall legislation when Republicans controlled the Senate.”

The Fix reports that in 2017, Senator Chuck Schumer, then the minority leader in the Senate, said he wanted to build a “firewall” around the filibuster. “Without the 60-vote threshold for legislation, the Senate becomes a majoritarian institution like the House, much more subject to the winds of short-term electoral change.”

Of course, the reason Schumer was all for protecting the filibuster at the time was because Senator Mitch McConnell, then the Senate Majority Leader, eliminated the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees.  Now that McConnell is the leader of the minority, he is standing firm on protecting the filibuster.

According to The Fix, Democratic Senator Dick Durbin referenced the wisdom of the Founding Fathers in defense of the filibuster in 2018, but after his party gained the majority, he said filibusters have turned the Senate “into one of the world’s most ineffectual bodies.”

Durbin is right on this point: The Senate has succumbed to political tribalism where the filibuster is weaponized.  But like any weapon, it is only a tool. Increasingly, each side uses the filibuster to prevent the other side from advancing its agenda.

Theoretically, the threat of the roadblock should lead to greater bipartisanship, especially on larger legislative packages. But it did not happen with election reform and the prospects are increasingly dim for infrastructure.

Eliminating the filibuster would not solve the problem. Instead, it would guarantee that the party with only a slim majority would push through its partisan agenda, only to see that agenda replaced when the opposing party gains the majority.

The country would be caught in a crossfire of significant policy swings that would fuel even more political polarization and chaotic governance.








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