You have likely heard the term “filibuster” thrown around a lot over the last couple of weeks. It is a word that isn’t used much outside of D.C., but it is important to you as the resident of a small, rural state.
The filibuster is a procedural tool used in the Senate to pump the brakes on a piece of legislation or a nominee that the minority party finds concerning. It raises the threshold for passage of a bill to 60 votes as opposed to a simple majority of 50 votes. Use of the filibuster forces senators from both parties to reach a compromise on an issue.
In order to form a more perfect union, our Founding Fathers gave us a government that filters the will of the majority through a deliberative process of amendment and debate.
The filibuster was created to protect the voice of the minority – to make sure that one party did not have unilateral rule over every decision. To slow down the process and force debate on important changes in policy.
The filibuster sets the Senate apart. In the House of Representatives, it is all about majority rule. The founders intended the Senate to be the “cooling saucer” of the legislative branch – the body that paused and took the time to consider how the majority’s actions would affect the minority. The filibuster is an important method to accomplish that.
Simply put, the filibuster gives the party not in power a voice to speak for forgotten Americans and for small states like Wyoming. Democrats have relied on the filibuster heavily in years they were in the minority, as have Republicans. However, it’s shocking to me that Democrats have so dramatically changed their tune on the filibuster.
In 2020 alone, Democrats used the filibuster 327 times to block nominees and legislation they felt were harmful to their constituents. Many of the Democrats currently leading the charge to do away with the filibuster were some of its most ardent defenders and avid users.
For example, Majority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-NY, said in 2005 that abolishing the filibuster would be “doomsday for democracy.” Majority Whip Sen. Dick Durbin, D-IL, said in 2018 that ending the filibuster “would be the end of the Senate as it was originally devised and created going back to our Founding Fathers.”
Former senator from California and current Vice President Kamala Harris signed a letter in 2017 along with 31 of her Democratic colleagues urging the protection of the filibuster.
President Biden, who served as the senator from Delaware from 1973 to 2009, spoke frequently in support of the filibuster, calling it a senator’s “right” to require 60 votes for legislation, and claiming that efforts to undermine the filibuster are a “power grab by the majority party.”
Well, it sounds very much like the Democrats in the Senate are opting for a power grab by the majority party.
Some of the more level-headed members of the Democratic Party in the Senate are hesitant to do this, to their great credit, and to the benefit of the institution of the Senate.
My colleagues Sens. Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin recognize that what goes around comes around. Unlike many of their colleagues, they remember former Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid’s, D-NV, decision to nuke the filibuster on Presidential nominees. This decision resulted in three Trump appointed Supreme Court justices being confirmed by a simple majority.
Our country is divided right now. If we want a more perfect union than we have today, we need more compromise, not less. This is why we have institutional norms, like the filibuster. When one party starts tearing up norms to achieve a partisan goal, they might gain in the short term, but they do irreversible, lasting damage to our institutions.
Our founders understood that the ends do not always justify the means. That’s why we have the separation of powers, two chambers of Congress, and the Bill of Rights.
Right now, we need to choose the harder right over the easier wrong. Compromise is hard – but the American people have placed a great deal of faith in each of us to get it done.
I have faith in us as well. We need to protect our institutions. We need to protect the filibuster.