Will A Midterm Red Wave Threat Cause Democrats to End The Filibuster While They Still Can?

Jimmy Stewart’s 1939 performance in Mr. Smith Goes To Washington helped form the popular perception of a Senate filibuster, with a lawmaker talking for hours on end. The perception has been that the filibuster was like a David and Goliath battle against the establishment to stop bad legislation in Congress. See this iconic speech in this film below.

 

But this has all changed. For a growing number of Democrats, the filibuster is a barrier to the things they want to accomplish. Former President Barack Obama listed some of them – ending partisan gerrymandering and making Election Day a national holiday, as well as statehood for Washington, DC, and Puerto Rico.

Today the Senate filibuster procedure allows a minority party with 41 votes to stop most legislation. The Senate tradition of unlimited debate has allowed for the use of the filibuster, a loosely defined term for action designed to prolong debate and delay or prevent a vote on a bill, resolution, amendment, or other debatable question. Both parties have used this method over the years (see chart).

Senate Filibuster by Party

Prior to 1917, the Senate rules did not provide for a way to end debate and force a vote on a measure. That year, the Senate adopted a rule to allow a two-thirds majority to end a filibuster, a procedure known as “cloture.” In 1975 the Senate reduced the number of votes required for cloture from two-thirds of senators voting to three-fifths of all senators duly chosen and sworn, or 60 of the 100-member Senate. Learn more here.

Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) and Joe Manchin (D-WV) are the two senators currently standing in the way of the Democratic Party abolishing or carving out exceptions to the Senate filibuster. This is currently the only way for President Joe Biden’s party to pass a law codifying the right to abortions at the federal level after the Supreme Court precedent Roe v. Wade was overturned. The same senators came out in 2021 against filibuster abolition or weakening to end the problem of the US debt ceiling in the medium term.

The Democrats currently have a 51:50 majority in the upper chamber of the US Congress (including Vice President Kamala Harris’ tie-breaking vote), which is short of the 60 votes needed to end a filibuster. Through the filibuster, the minority party in the Senate can hold up proceedings by not letting bills come up to a vote if the majority party lacks a majority of 60 votes or more. To abolish or carve out an exception to the filibuster, Democrats would presumably only need a simple majority, but due to intra-party dissenters, they also do not have that one.

Numbers from the US Senate suggest that filibusters – and the motions needed to end them – have indeed been more frequently holding up business on Capitol Hill as the often-invoked partisan gridlock becomes ever more entrenched. The 117th Congress, still in session until the end of this year, is close to setting a new record for Senate cloture motions filed to end filibusters. The current one is held by the previous Congress at 328. For the current one, the number stood at 293, with several months still to go in the term. See this in the chart below and learn more here.

Senate Filibusters

What are some pros and cons of the Senate filibuster rule? Check out the following infographic for some of these.

Senate Filibuster Pros and Cons

How likely is this Senate rule to change?

The “nuclear option” is another way to change the filibuster that’s more complicated but more likely to pass. Instead of changing the law itself, the nuclear option would involve creating a precedent. A precedent clarifies how the rules of the Senate should be interpreted and used. It could add certain restrictions to the filibuster rule, making it harder to filibuster or easier to invoke cloture.

A precedent is also easier to get passed because it can be enacted with support from only a simple majority of senators. Both parties have used the nuclear option as recently as 2013 and 2017 to change the filibuster process for cabinet nominations and judicial positions.

Whether significant changes occur in the Senate filibuster rule remains to be seen. Remember, both parties have used it – it will cut both ways. So, Biden’s push to get this rule abolished may be short-sighted for the Democrats.

Give us your thoughts on this rule on whether it should be kept, abolished, or modified in the comment section of this post.

 

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 RWR original article syndication source.

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Written by Jefferson Thomas

Concerned citizen.

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