There was a balanced article in the New York Times yesterday about the fate of the filibuster in the Senate. I suggest interested parties read this publication.
I have addressed the filibuster several times in recent days because it is such a critical element of lawmaking in the Senate.
Let’s start with the basics. To pass a law, legislators must obtain approval of the House of Representatives and the Senate, along with the signature of the president. The House operates with a simple majority. The Senate can pass a law with a simple majority if no senator objects. If one does object, the bill must be approved by 60 senators, a supermajority, if you will.
The importance of the filibuster cannot be overstated. Recent history proved this point. In 2013, Senate Democrats voted to change the filibuster rules as it pertains to confirmation of judges, except for the Supreme Court. This action enabled Democrats to confirm a large number of judges that would normally have been unacceptable to Senate Republicans and would have been blocked with filibusters. Republicans were furious about the action by Democrats and soon found their revenge.
In 2020, Senate Republicans took control of the Upper House and changed the filibuster rule further by subjecting Supreme Court justices to a simple majority for confirmation. This action has changed the nature of the Supreme Court for decades as Donald Trump was able to fill the court with relatively young conservative justices. These confirmations could have a devastating impact on many embedded laws affiliated with social issues, including abortion rights, gun control and a plethora of management/worker issues in this country.
Now let’s consider the current state of affairs. Elimination of the filibuster for every day lawmaking will increase the power of the Democrat majority in the Senate. It will enable the Senate to pass laws with a simple majority. With a filibuster, the minority can require a supermajority vote of 60 to pass a law. Abrogating the filibuster only abets the activities of the majority, so long as it holds power. When the majority changes, as it often does, the advantage swings from the former majority to the former minority. So many senators think it is shortsighted to abolish this important protection for the minority.
What will Biden, the House and the razor-thin majority in the Senate do with total control of the legislative process? They might enact frivolous laws that do not represent the wishes of a majority of people in the country. The filibuster traditionally makes controversial and difficult legislation more challenging to pass by forcing consensus and compromise.
For instance, if the Biden administration wants to push through legislation that increases taxes for the middle class even if the majority of citizens are against these tax increases, they can do it. The minority has no power to stop them. This proposal would normally face opposition from the minority Republicans who would likely use a filibuster to impede it.
The bottom line is that without a filibuster, a government that controls all three branches of the lawmaking process is too powerful. As citizens, we need to demand that important legislation finds some consensus to become law. This becomes problematic without a filibuster.