President Biden went to Georgia Tuesday to try to drum up enthusiasm for federal “voting rights” legislation. The dark symbolism cannot be avoided—the President making his case for a “lost cause” in the heart of the south.
The Freedom to Vote Act, or whatever incarnation the President and Democrats are pushing now, will fail in the Senate if it comes to a vote. Biden’s declaration that the nation must “choose democracy over autocracy” rings of desperation.
So, if the federal elections bill fails we will have, by definition, “a system of government by one person with absolute power?” That is a reach, even for a politician.
For the bill to pass, the Senate would have to change the filibuster rule requiring 60 votes to advance legislation. Biden is proposing a “carve out” of the filibuster so this bill can pass with 51 votes.
But Senator Joe Manchin opposes the carve out or any serious tampering with the filibuster that does not go through the normal process. Senate rule changes require two-thirds of the members present and voting in favor.
“I’m not going to break the rules to change the rules,” Manchin said.
Yes, the filibuster is abused these days. The romanticized image of a Senator speaking for hours on the floor out of principle to ensure the minority voice is heard has been replaced by a simple procedural step that requires nearly every vote of consequence to have at least 60 votes to pass.
But eliminating the filibuster would plunge the Senate, and thus governance, deeper into the mire of tribal politics. All desire for bipartisanship would be lost. The only motivation for each party would be to secure enough seats in the next election to have a majority.
The greater good for the whole that comes with bipartisanship would be replaced by the tyranny of the majority.
The late Senator Robert Byrd, the conscience of the Senate, spoke passionately about the filibuster during a rally in 2005: “So they want to change the rules in the middle of the game to get their own way. Who cares, they say, about the consequences? Who cares about the minority views of a free society? Well don’t they know that sometimes the majority can be wrong?”
Senator Shelley Moore Capito predicts that if the Senate would do away with the filibuster, a litany of progressive bills would be pushed through by the Democratic majority—the Green New Deal, court packing, federalized elections, D.C. statehood, attacks on the Second Amendment.
But more broadly, Capito worries that all governing, regardless of party, would become chaotic.
“If Democrats were successful with doing away with the filibuster, legislative accomplishments could be undone and redone over and over with just one flip of a Senate seat,” Capito said. “That’s a dangerous precedent to set and a reckless way to govern. This move would have disastrous consequences and would fundamentally change our democratic process for years to come.”
Back to Senator Byrd’s speech from 2005 in defense of the filibuster. He said, “Now, why can’t reasonable senators, on both sides of the aisle, act in the best interest of the Senate, in the best interest of the Constitution, and the best interest of the country by working together to find a way to avoid this procedural Armageddon?”
Those words should echo in the ears of Senators as they contemplate what constitutes good governance, rather than just focusing on the next election.