I believe the press and political talking heads are significantly understating the significance of proposed changes to Senate filibuster rules.
The filibuster protects the minority in the Senate, no matter which party is in control. It effectively requires a supermajority to pass controversial legislation. It is a God-send tool of the minority that enables those not in power to force a supermajority vote on legislature that is frivolous or dangerous.
Two reiterate, the filibuster protects the interests of the party that is in the minority. Given that the control of the Senate has changed rather frequently in recent years, both parties have used the filibuster extensively.
Changes in the filibuster rule have taken place in recent years. In 2013, Democrats were in control of the Senate, and with a simple majority adopted a new rule for confirmation of federal judges. No longer could the minority force a 60-vote minimum for confirmation of these lower court nominations.
In 2017, Republicans, then in control of the Senate, changed the rule for confirmation of Supreme Court Justices to a simple majority. This enabled Republicans to jam through the confirmation of Justice Kavanaugh, who was barely confirmed with a majority vote.
After the death of Senator Ted Kennedy, Democrats lost a supermajority in the Senate because Scott Brown, a Republican, won Kennedy’s seat. Democrat seats decreased from 60 to 59, depriving Democrats of a supermajority. This occurred just after the enactment of Obamacare, and effectively ended Barack Obama’s plans to radically change our economy and our society. He had to govern with presidential mandates for the balance of his tenure being unable to override filibusters by the minority.
Note: Mandates by former presidents are easily reversible with a strike of the pen by subsequent presidents, which Trump affectively did when he was elected, and Biden is doing now. The executive power is often criticized because the president is, in effect, enacting laws without congressional approval.
So, what we have seen is that the party in power in the Senate frequently calls for weakening of filibuster rules, only to regret it after they are relegated to the minority in subsequent years.
The fairness argument is pretty solid for both sides. The party in power should dominate the enactment of laws, and filibusters make this difficult. On the other hand, the most important legislative actions in our country should be bipartisan. Another important tidbit is that filibusters give small state senators a much bigger club, as any senator can stand up and demand a supermajority vote on any legislative proposal.
What’s going on now? Democrats are in power and have free reign to enact a progressive agenda of legislative items, affecting the most important political, societal and economic issues. With the control of the presidency and both houses of Congress the only barrier to new legislation would be a Republican filibuster that requires a 60% Senate majority vote.
Even if you are a Democrat, do want your party to have unlimited power? Don’t you want to hear both sides of complex and strategically important issues? Wouldn’t you rather see bipartisan votes in Congress and not automatic votes along party lines?
Biden and his liberal colleagues are going to try to change some really important laws in coming months. I would like to hear what the implications of this legislation are from both sides, wouldn’t you?