A filibuster is a political procedure where one or more members of Congress debate over a proposed piece of legislation so as to delay or entirely prevent a decision from being made on the proposed legislative action.
It is a procedural strategy in which a senator speaks — or threatens to speak — for hours to delay efforts to vote for a bill. The unusual tactic takes advantage of Senate Rule 22, which says that a senator, once recognized on the floor, may speak on an issue without being impeded by anyone. While various rule changes have tempered the filibuster’s power over the past century, it still offers unique leverage to the minority political party in the Senate.
To begin a filibuster, a senator needs to go to the Senate floor and ask the presiding officer to recognize him or her. That Senator is then allowed to speak for as long as he or she wishes. To end a filibuster requires the vote of 60 senators in the 100-member Senate. But there is one way to end the filibuster with just a simple majority of 51 votes and that is to amend the Senate Rules, a procedure called the “nuclear option.”
But right now the Senate Democrats don’t have the votes to end a filibuster although the Democrats have 50 votes plus the vice president acting as presiding officer casting the tie-breaker vote. Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona had indicated their opposition to ending the filibuster, which was viewed as the main obstruction to passing H.R.1, the “For the People Act” voting rights legislation. But they said they would support it, which begs the question: If they support H.R.1 why wouldn’t they support ending the filibuster, which would be used by the Republicans to block H.R.1? It just doesn’t make any sense.
Manchin and Sinema said that they value bipartisanship and believe such a move would lead to resolving problems. But they need to realize that the Republicans would never support the civil rights legislation, which they believe would hand more power to the Democrats and deal the Republicans a fatal blow in the 2022 and 2024 elections. So why would they support it? Manchin said he wouldn’t vote to change the filibuster even if the rest of his Democratic colleagues would cooperate; which makes one wonder: Is Manchin a closet Republican?
Manchin suggested the burden should be on senators blocking a bill to explain their position on the Senate floor – just like the “talking filibuster” that used to exist in the Senate, which Biden had endorsed returning to. But Manchin needs to remember that the Republicans don’t want to explain their position. Their body language speaks volumes and it says, “No.”
Manchin and Sinema’s dream of achieving bipartisanship will never happen simply because the two-party system doesn’t allow it to happen. There is always partisanship in the way Congress works. There is the “aisle” that divides the chambers into two sections. That’s why whoever has the majority, rules. And it’s always been that way since the beginning. It’s democracy in action. There are always pros and cons in any legislative bill filed in both houses of Congress. However, there is plenty of room for compromises to arrive at an amicable resolution of issues. There is no filibuster in the House of Representatives and it works for them. Why can’t it work in the Senate?
Filibuster is not even in the Constitution. However, it gives each house of Congress the authority to set its own “Rules of Proceedings” and the possibility of a filibuster has been part of Senate Rules since the early 1800s. But the Senate can change its rules if it finds it cumbersome to enact laws. And that’s where the “nuclear option” comes into play.
Stakes are high
The stakes are pretty high right now. The Voting Rights Act, which was enacted in 1965, is in peril of being overturned. Currently, 14 states have enacted 22 new laws to make it harder to vote. These laws would restrict ballot access, which would make it harder for people of color to exercise their right to vote. Needless to say, it would make it harder to vote absentee and by mail. These legislations are meant to suppress access to the ballot box following the record turnout in the 2020 election, which many Republicans – including Donald Trump – point out as the main reason why Trump lost the presidency.
Currently, there is a move in the Senate to leave the filibuster intact, modify it or get rid of it completely. But President Biden rejected the idea of eliminating the filibuster entirely, saying that doing so would “throw the entire Congress into chaos. And nothing would get done.”
At a town hall on July 21 in Cincinnati, Biden asserted his desire to preserve the filibuster to which the CNN host Don Lemon commented that a filibuster could stall civil rights legislation. The audience’s reaction in support of ending the filibuster was spontaneous, a clear sign that Americans want the filibuster to end.
President Biden should realize that the Democrats could lose both the Senate and the House of Representatives in the 2022 election. If that happens Biden might as well kiss his legislative agenda goodbye. And that would throw the entire country into chaos! And that would make him a lame duck president for the rest of his term. Nothing will get done legislatively from that time on, which would make Senate majority floor leader Mitch McConnell very happy indeed. Remember when he said at the beginning of Biden’s presidency, “One hundred percent of our focus is on stopping this new administration”? That’s always been his objective since the time of former president Barack Obama.
As the Republicans attempt to thwart the Democrats’ legislative agenda, the Democrats are growing impatient. Some of them are beginning to wonder if softening or changing the filibuster rules might just work for them? Why not?
As the saying goes, “Squeaky wheel gets the grease,” reforming the filibuster just might do that. Some suggested to lowering the threshold for moving forward on legislation to 55, instead of 60. This would send a clear signal that the Democrats are willing to work with the Republicans amicably. Who knows? The Republicans just might take it.
I believe it’s time for President Biden and Senators Manchin and Sinema to get their act together. It’s time to end the filibuster and pass the “For the People Act.”