Save the Senate: Kill the Filibuster!
Good news. The days of Congress doing nothing may be over. Congress this week passed one of the most substantive and far-reaching pieces of legislation since the days of FDR.
Most Americans, including most members of Congress, don’t realize how truly revolutionary President Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus, the so-called “American Rescue Plan,” really is. It sends a check for $1,400 to every American earning less than $80,000 a year, single parents earning up to $112,500, and married couples with incomes up to $150,000. In addition, it provides most families with a monthly check of $300 per child.
The bill also expands subsidies under the Affordable Care Act; includes $28.6 billion to help restaurants reopen; $350 billion for state, local, and tribal governments; $130 billion to help school districts reopen primary and secondary schools; $12 billion for nutritional assistance to needy families; and $14 billion for setting up new vaccine distribution sites. According to Columbia University’s Center on Policy and Social Policy, the Biden plan will cut the child poverty rate in half. Many economists predict increased consumer spending, as a result of the bill, will boost the economy to its highest growth-rate since the 1980’s.
Wow! As former Vice President Biden might say, this is a “BFD.” But let’s be clear. There’s only one way President Biden was able to get that monumental bill through such a do-nothing Congress: by using an end run called “reconciliation” around the Senate filibuster. But reconciliation won’t apply to the president’s next priorities: infrastructure, immigration, election reform, and climate change, among other issues – all of which would be DOA because of the filibuster.
So how to move forward? Because Republicans have decided to vote as a bloc against anything Biden is for, there’s only one answer. Seriously, folks, this is a no-brainer: KILL THE FILIBUSTER! It’s counterproductive, destructive, and fundamentally un-democratic.
Of course, the Senate’s not democratic to start with. It is, in fact, the most undemocratic and unrepresentative part of our entire government. Today, more than half the population of the United States lives in nine states, represented by only 18 senators. Which means that less than half the population controls 82 percent of the Senate. Wyoming, with only 579,000 people (less than the District of Columbia), has the same number of senators as California, with 39 million people.
On top of that, now add the filibuster. You may imagine the rare case of a senator rising on the floor and speaking for hours in front of a rapt audience in opposition to a piece of legislation. No way. That may have been true for Jimmy Stewart in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” or Strom Thurmond against the Civil Rights Act in 1957. But no longer.
Under today’s rules, it’s automatic. Simply by lining up 41 votes, the opposition can – and today’s Republicans do – invoke a filibuster on any and every piece of legislation. Unless you have 60 votes to move forward, a bill is dead. Nobody has to speak, nobody has to listen. There’s no debate, no amendments, no vote. Just no action. It’s as if the legislation, no matter how critical, doesn’t even exist.
Nothing could be more undemocratic. This is not governing. This is pure, partisan, political game-playing: the tyranny of the minority. This is insane and must end. The Senate can kill the filibuster, anytime, with a simple majority.
Unfortunately, today there are not even enough Democratic votes in the Senate to kill the filibuster outright. A few Democrats, including President Biden, believe we need to preserve the filibuster for the day when Democrats are once again in the minority – foolishly trusting Republicans not to kill the filibuster, once they’re back in the majority.
But, short of killing the filibuster outright, there are plenty of other options: force a senator to actually stand and speak for hours and hours without a break; force that senator to speak on the topic, and not just read the phone book; force all other senators to sit there and listen (that alone would kill it); force hourly votes on whether or not to allow the filibuster to continue; lower the threshold to 55 senators, not 60; or get rid of the filibuster only for certain issues, like voting rights.
Whichever path taken, ending it or reforming it, the filibuster must no longer be allowed to block progress on all the important issues facing this country. Otherwise, elections are meaningless. Leaving the filibuster as it is now is not an option.
(Bill Press is host of The BillPressPod, and author of the new book, “Trump Must Go: The Top 100 Reasons to Dump Trump (And One to Keep Him).” His email address is: firstname.lastname@example.org. Readers may also follow him on Twitter @billpresspod.)
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