Once Again, I’m Telling You That the Filibuster Doesn’t Actually Work

Aug 10, 2021 · 572 comments
dddhhh (Maryland)
There is a little more to it than that. Democrats, in general, want to do more and spend more. In contrast, Republicans want to do and spend less. This means that Democrats will support Republican spending bills. However, Republicans will tend to oppose Democrat spending bills. Because of this phenomenon, a Republican minority will generally have more power than a Democratic minority.
Chris Lawrence (Ottawa)
@dddhhh Close but no. Democrats are focused on enacting policy that the majority of Americans want, and Republican's are focused on tax cut's that benefit their donor's. The national debt skyrocketed over the Trump administration becasue they cut tax's to corporations and the wealth while spending on absurd projects like the wall. The Republican agenda has nothing to do with policy, it's just political theater designed to create fear while they benefit from the corruption.
Carl Mile (California)
Can you share with us under which republican administration spending decreased? Under which republican administration the deficit decreased?
Cynical (Knoxville, TN)
@dddhhh Both parties like to spend. Democrats want to spend it on people at home. Republicans want to spend it on people elsewhere. Democrats believe that if you use infrastructure, you must pay for it proportionately. Republicans believe that one must tax the poor with sales taxes for public facilities.
sdavidc9 (Cornwall Bridge, Connecticut)
The way our system currently works, we cannot guarantee that states will run fair elections. The Voting Rights Act fixed some of this, but by no means all of it, and the fixes we had are being removed or abandoned. The way our system currently works, the Sacklers continued their very profitable business for years after some people realized what they were up to and tried to get the rest of us to do something. This is decades of overdosed, dead drug users too long. The way our system currently works, we cannot do much about gun violence or head off environmental catastrophe. Powerful interests are free to secretly fund disinformation, and when found out are punished as severely as the Sacklers. We are going to have to go outside our system to get things done. This is dangerous, but not as dangerous as not getting these things done. We went outside the system once, and had our worst war. We may have to go outside the system with mass demonstrations and have a plan to bring about better results than Egypt in the Arab Spring or Belarus now. We may have to go outside the system by allowing states to go their own ways on the pandemic or in general, and making it easier for minorities to move to states where they are more comfortable. If Republicans take back the House and/or Senate, we will have to go outside the system for action on climate change. We should be preparing now.
Mike (Illinois)
It’s amazing what can get done in Congress when their vacations are threatened.
Will you have the same opinion when Republicans regain control?
Kev (Montrose, CO)
This article hit the nail on the head. The only way to rid the system of the filibuster is to vote out the republican party in 2022 and 2024. The democrats have to win the majority in the house and senate. Let's get rid of the lying republicans. We as a country, can't take any more lies from the republicans.
John D. (Sacramento)
The Senate minority deserves a VOICE, not VETO!
juhclu (Monte Sereno, CA)
Yes, of course the fillibuster doesn't work. Which explains why it's still here. But few can agree on how to modify or eradicate it. Like the Electoral College, it's a hold over and needs to be reformed.
FW (West Virginia)
The filibuster is a procedural accident. It is not part of some grand design of the founders to achieve bipartisan legislation. In fact having a senate that requires a supermajority to act on legislation is exactly the opposite of what the founders intended. They specifically voted down a supermajority for the Senate.
Eric (London, Canada)
I don't understand the Democratic death wish for abolishing the filibuster. The Senate is stacked toward Republicans with all those Southern and Western states. Democrats can run up the popular vote all they want but California is still going to have the same number of Senators as Wyoming. I know that the filibuster is responsible for inaction, but do you really want to empower more Republican action? Republicans haven't had a filibuster-proof majority since Taft's time, more than a century ago. But since Nixon's Southern Strategy kicked in with Reagan's election in 1980 Republics have been the majority in 14 Senates while Democrats have managed only 10. And if you think that doesn't matter just think about what Mitch McConnell did when Democrats dropped the hurdle for appointing justices from 60 to 50.
DG (Idaho)
The left is about to blow up the filibuster as the only reason they are not going to raise the debt limit in their reconciliation bill is they have the votes to finally end the filibuster, if they didnt they would tack a number on as the debt limit so their legislation actually gets carried out.
Hoshiar (Kingston Canada)
The only reason this billed passed is because of the position of Senators Manchin add Sinema who sided with Republicans to narrow the scope of the bills versus the need to rebuild infrastructure. The absence of any tax increase on wealthiest Americans was most disgraceful cave in by the Democratic. This caving in will became more obvious and regrettable if Democratic in Senate fail to approve the second infrastructure bill through reconciliation path.
Stew Mahoney (Davenport, Florida)
The liberal author of this article is typically short sighted. What will your opinion be when the Republicans are in the majority. You will sling every hateful fascist, totalitarian, bigoted slur you can invent. You can't have it both ways. To be able to spend like a drunken sailor one year but then be able to block programs you don't like the next. Meanwhile our country will stagger from one extreme philosophy to the polar opposite the next time there is an election. This country and government worked quite well with compromise and each side gaining a half of a loaf, with room to gain more in the future. From my conservative viewpoint the extremism began with the Tea Party and the Democrats responded with the extremism of the radical socialist left. Now where are we? Nancy, Chuckie and Joey want to leave their irresponsible agenda as their legacy, no matter what it does to the country. People, you get what you vote for.
When you get your power back, there won’t be a filibuster because there won’t be a democracy anymore. Goodbye to our 245 struggle for greatness in a world of autocracy and dictatorships.
Gregory J. (Houston)
The filibuster may not work, but neither does the senate or the supreme court.
Matt J. (United States)
The only reason that compromise what achieved was because the pig was so fat that there was enough pork to go around. The GOP Senators are mostly from small states that are economic lightweights that depend on getting more from the government than they give. So sure Shelly Moore Capito (R-WV) can talk about how things worked great, but that talk cost the American taxpayer billions of dollars for infrastructure in WV that really wasn't as necessary as other economically productive regions. Those infrastructure projects are more like job projects than infrastructure projects.
Taylor Quan (California)
I'm fine with the filibuster because this country is standing on a precipice and shoving through national partisan legislation is going to push us over the edge. We need to focus less on national policymaking and stop acceding so much power to the federal government. Relegate more to the states where people can have more direct influence and where a California liberal policy doesn't have to affect a West Virginia conservative.
Dieter Beintrexler (Lake Erie , NY)
Not sure who “ us “ is ? Us who are affected by the lack of policies to fight Climate Change ? Us who are affected by the lack of vaccinations and not wearing masks , predominantly in States with Republican Governors. Inaction or false policies on both have deadly consequences. Or us who have a hard time voting because of restrictive voting laws and gerrymandering. Time for the impediment to Democracy, the Filibuster to go unto the dustheap of history!
John (San Rafael)
"Once Again, I’m Telling You That the Filibuster Doesn’t Actually Work" Yep!
Thomas (New York)
The filibuster doesn't work? I'd say it works well -- for the racists who don't want all Americans to be able to vote, and the lackeys of the oil companies, who will do their bidding even though the planet burns.
Zen Scarlett (Florida voter)
Miriam Webster definition of filibuster: The use of extreme dilatory tactics (as by making long speeches) in an attempt to delay or prevent especially in a legislative assembly. Key words: DELAY OR PREVENT.
Douglas Archer (SFBA)
While I agree with the article's contention that the Filibuster has been abused and causes more damage than good, the argument that this passage of a bipartisan Infrastructure bill somehow proves that seems weak. The Filibuster can only impede, so it is only in that which which is blocked that we can see the harm. Budget bills have passed before, usually with a fair bit of 'pork' for more than most, and at least a little to everyone. This is how politics works. Your alternative is a dictatorship where you have NO say in the solution.
ddepperman (Colorado)
Frequently, when the Federal government spends, it is not just tossing our hard-earned money down a hole. Typically, those dollars are investments that pay off to the benefit of the nation. The Federal Government can be a "force for good", or, for not so good. The Constitution did not include the filibuster, because, it's very nature is anti-democratic. It enables any powerful minority party to stifle the projects of the majority party. It isn't a well reasoned tool when used. It has never saved the nation from ruin and desolation. But it has frozen the intent of majorities to do what their voters voted for. It is not a useful tool for our democracy. Instead it blocks its effective functioning. It's actually an excellent way for a democratic republic to falter, permanently. In an effective government, when laws prove to have negative effects they can be and are "replaced" by new legislation. We fix our mistakes, when we make them. Prohibition is an easy example of this. The correct place for both parties to hash things out is in their respective houses, by talk, debate, considered discourse, followed by their voting. Presently, we are in grave national danger of a major usurpation of our rule of law, powered by the very small group of very wealthy people, who unfortunately use the republican party to get their way, over the will of a majority of Americans. Filibuster is one tool they use. Spreading disinformation is another. The nation is is real trouble.
David (Cincinnati)
Fine, get rid of the filibuster and let the Progressives run rampant with giving money to anyone and everyone with their hand outs. Then the Republicans will get voted in and have to undo all the crazy give-away programs, and the Democrats won't be voted into power for another 20 years. I'm a liberal, but I didn't vote for Democrats so they can give away everything. I voted for Democrats because the Republicans are awful, not because I wanted to hand-out money and micro manage the economy. Physical infrastructure spending is good, the other package is just to keep the far-left happy and is reckless.
Marshall (Waterford, MI)
If you're voting for someone because you hate their opponent more, not because you actually like the candidate, then the problem is within the system, not the policy.
David (Cincinnati)
@Marshall I have to live with crazy policies no matter who I vote for. When either side wins, they take it as a mandate to go either full far-right or full-far left. Can't we just have something in the middle? When I vote in the primaries I try to find a reasonable middle-0f-the-road candidate, but they seem to no longer exist.
Joe B. (Center City)
Hey Dave, glad to hear you all are finally getting the bridge that crosses from Cincy into the 18th Century. Think we should give them broadband?
Alan (Rochester)
The Democrats are whining about the filibuster only because it is their agenda that is being voted down. Now, I would love to get something done about climate change and some kind of rational gun control but if we get rid of the filibuster to enact those things we will be opening the flood gates for every loony left wing idea the "squad" can come up with. It is just too dangerous to get rid of the filibuster.
Joe B. (Center City)
The Democrats are “whining” about the extra-Constitutional, anti-majoritarian filibuster because it permits one person to oppose the will of the people.
Dean R (Vancouver)
If you think "the squad" can get every single Dem SENATOR and VP Harris on board with "loony-left ideas" then you haven't been paying much attention.
hm1342 (NC)
"Once Again, I’m Telling You That the Filibuster Doesn’t Actually Work" Senators from both parties really couldn't care less what the pundit class thinks when it comes to the filibuster. Dems and Repubs alike are absolutely committed to keep it in one form or another, maybe trim it around the edges as they have done recently. But they ARE going to keep it. Both parties realize it's their only weapon while they're in the minority.
Dquixote (LaMancha)
The ONLY reason that most of the Republicans that voted for the Democratic Infrastructure Bill did so was to try to save their political behinds in the upcoming elections. They do not care (with only a very few exceptions) one whit for the public, for Infrastructure and certainly not for the success of Joe Biden's Administration. The days of accountability are approaching and their stance on virtually everything, ANY meaningful legislation or Covid response, has been either negative our absent. Their voters will clearly see that and they, the misfit Republican Trumpists, need something to ostensibly show the voters that may distract them from the horrible truth - that THEIR Republican legislators are worthless insurrectionists and obstructionists, interested only in the con and power. The RED half of this Congress is the most pathetic disgrace I have seen in my 75 years as an American. They are not public servants, they are terrorists. Until that issue is definitively dealt with, this country will not prosper. Until there is a clear Democratic majority (only because Republicans are so anti-American), we will sink even lower on the global totem until China simply eats our dinner.
Terry Neiles (Carlisle PA)
Remember the old saying….”What goes around comes around”
Tom (Littleton, CO)
“Once Again, I’m Telling You That the Filibuster Doesn’t Actually Work.” Wrong! The filibuster works just like the Southern politicians wanted it to work in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. It may not work for Democracy, but it sure as hell works for Mitch and other Republican politicians who play the very, very, very long game started in 1980 by Reagan and the Dark Money cabal in an effort to dismiss environmental regulation, destroy unions, waive all taxation on the wealthy and corporation “personages”, and return social programs to their 1920’s (prior to FDR) notable absence. In the end, the filibuster works very well indeed.
sage43 (bmore)
I would like Mr. Bouie to explain why the filibuster was perfectly acceptable when Pres. Trump was jn office and democrats used it more than 300 times. However, now it is an abomination of the senate when the democrats control Washington. Yes, please explain.
Frank F (Santa Monica, CA)
I'm all for the filibuster IF conducted as intended by the founders. Rather than shut down any and all debate before it even begins, make the GOP blowhards representing the gun-loving, climate change-denying MINORITY of Americans stand up and speechify till they're blue in the face. And show the salient moments on TV every evening so we can all see who cares about the health and safety of our children and who does not.
Dadalaz (Edwardsville, IL)
And when the Republicans again have a majority in the Senate as, one day, they surely will...what then? Their voters have heartfelt priorities too, and once 'shackle of the supermajority' is lifted, you may be very, very sorry.
No One (Here)
Your right filibuster doesn’t work. The senate doesn’t work because their job is put the brakes in the House of Representatives. We don’t need the Senate that duplicates everything thing the House of Representatives dose. How many duplicated committees do we need to run this country?
Em (Newcomb)
As always, I appreciate your insight and your excellent writing. Yours is one of the first columns I turn to, and one of the few I always feel smarter for having read. Thank you. (And to any editors reading, thanks for hiring Mr. Bouie!)
Bill (FL)
Maintenance and repair of US infrastructure (physical infrastructure, not social infrastructure) has been consistently underfunded for many decades. This means that, in fact, Congress is showing its ability to function by making increased funding available for infrastructure. Social infrastructure (or perhaps better labeled socialist infrastructure), or free everything for everyone, is another matter entirely. As Margaret Thatcher aptly noted, socialism is great until you run out of other people’s money to spend. The taxes necessary to fund trillions of dollars of free everything for everyone year after year cannot possibly provided solely by billionaires and the very wealthy. Ask not for whom the tax man is coming; he is coming with increases for everyone who earns money.
Lucy Van Pelt (NYC)
Where was your concern about the trillions of taxpayer dollars robbed from the middle class and funneled directly to corporations and robber barrons for the last fifty years? Were you concerned about how we were going to pay trillions for a twenty year, unwinnable war? Did you ask questions then? Or only now that a Democrat is President?
n1789 (savannah)
A republic puts decisions in the hands of elected representatives, not in the hands of the masses.
Joe B. (Center City)
Say what? Our Constitution places the power to elect federal office holders in the hands of the voters.
Marjorie Summons (Greenpoint)
The Senate and cockeyed Presidential Electoral College make America the most undemocratic nation in the democratic world. A laughing stock of civilized nations.
Upstate (Buffalo NY)
People like to say congress doesn't function or the US government isn't working, but that's because you're just not getting specifically what you want. I think there is a narcissism and expectation that you will always get what you want or there must be something wrong with the system. But that is not how government works. Change is a process. This government has survived for over two hundred years, the world's longest running democratic republic, precisely because it is built to resist radical changes that have destroyed so many other governments. Dozens of other countries have modelled their constitution and government structure after ours for a reason. People should realize that you will not always get what you specifically want. There are other people in a society with other conflicting interests.
Chicago Guy (Chicago, Il)
If the GOP had won in 2020 they would have abolished the filibuster on day one. Rammed through a tax giveaway for billionaires / gutted social programs / and packed the courts with ideologues - as they always do. And the day they knew they were going to lose power, they would have re-instituted the filibuster. And McConnell's S.C. flip-flop proves it.
Peter Zenger (NYC)
Historically, the "Filibuster" has been used by both the Democratic and the Republican party. The Filibuster is actually a very good thing - it is a tool for providing consensus in our government. Complaining about it when it works against your party, after having used it when it worked for your party, is the epitome of hypocrisy. We don't need to re-invent how our government works - we need to improve the quality of our political creatures; both on the Donkey side, and the Elephant side.
Election Inspector (Seattle)
Mr Bouie uses a lot of words - and I agree - but it really comes down to this: If the majority hadn't had to cede so much ground and waste so much time chasing after a few Republican minority votes, what could have been done, much more quickly and efficiently? I think we'll see shortly, in the "partisan" companion bill, which includes so many more policies the majority of voters in the country actually support and need.
Andy (Montreal)
In all fairness, they've barely came to an accord to finance said bridges! LOL As parliaments go, the US equivalent is a model of disfunction in which greed, special interests and good ol' incompetence rule supreme. The problem with infrastructure is that, after it's built, it needs upkeep, modernization and after the life span of the structure it's over, it needs tearing down and rebuilding. Something China with its new glistening buildings and bridges will find out soon enough. But that American political deadlock needs an asap solution, before it drags all wealthy, democratic countries down with it, like dominoes. There are too many dangers lurking in the world for us to afford this.
Jasper O'Rourke (NYC)
Once Again, I’m Telling You That the Filibuster Is Saving America From The Progressive Left.
N Olliver (New Zealand)
Yhea, just like it saved America from racial equality.
Joe B. (Center City)
Trump lost. Elections have consequences.
Richard Schumacher (The JoeBiden States of America)
Non-proportional representation in the Senate is one of the fatal flaws in our constitution. A system which cannot be reformed is doomed to fail.
Javaforce (CA)
McConnell’s probably conniving about how he’ll scuttle the infrastructure bills. Biden needs to get behind some filibuster carve outs at least. He needs to show Democratic Americans that he’s working for them. So far Biden is showing way to much deference to the party of the big lie.
WHen the one party who is actually acting as arepresentative body in a Democracy and the other is using their authority to destroy it, we have a problem. Yes, the party that has abandoned Democracy and openly attacking it with violent coup attempts, voter suppression and active propaganda programs that promote voters killing each other with preventable diseases is an obvious problem. The REAL problem is the lack of the party who can stop them doing so. They refuse to use their authority we trusted them with, to hold the seditious citizen killers accountable.They do not take the appropriate actions that would end their ability to continue. They are free to continue planning and acting with aggressive intent to threaten and end, our freedoms. Until we see this abandonment of responsibility by Dems as the real problem, we will be forced to suffer the consequences. Wake up.
Casual Observer (Los Angeles)
Before we achieve infrastructure for the next century, we are going to have to replace nearly all energy systems upon which all of our new wealth creation requires, the way we pay for all the investments. Meanwhile extreme weather that persists and worsens for the use of those wealth creating endeavors places more and more costs upon our economy, sapping the new wealth created. We are in a big fix from which we have no clear way out. How much of the desired infrastructure improvements we shall make is uncertain. We need to start considering alternatives, including just not doing a lot of things which are contributing to global warming. That means not doing, not doing the same differently when the means to do that requires investments.
Casual Observer (Los Angeles)
The filibuster is an impediment to allowing simple majorities to enact legislation without nearly half of the representatives agreeing. No problem as long as the minority is not of the view that the majority is jamming something through against their interests. When the majority is a supermajority the filibuster is meaningless. When it means something, it stops legislation which a huge minority finds unacceptable. If they find something unacceptable, will they gracefully abide and support or will they reject and evade? If they reject and evade, will that impeded implementation or not? Democracy means compromise and accepting some portion of what is desired to have that much. If one needs to have it all, one needs autocratic power and the ability to compel all to support without reservation.
Steve h (Orillia)
Stupid filibuster, if you think you need it, why don’t you change it. Make it something earned, like freedom. The senators could get bipartisan points cards. I’m seeing a catalog of prizes they could hope for someday if they just shopped there enough.
MSM Fan (Texas)
If I hear one more elected official utter "woke" one more time I will scream. They sound like "Valley Girls" who can't structure a coherent sentence to save their seats. (And neither can an "amount" of their spoxes.) The only explaining they do is grifting the donors about how much they are needed in DC so they don't have to go home and live among the FreeDumbs they claim to represent. I can't remember the last timed a politician gave a informed and passionate argument for something what might be unpopular, but was all kinds of necessary. The current crop (some well past their shelf life) are all worthless as teats on a boar hog, and need to be replaced with each election cycle. Quit electing self-serving, narcissistic, neutered idiots to run this country.
Johnny Comelately (San Diego)
True infrastructure will not happen without reconciliation. The filibuster only can work if Senators really respect the institutional constraints that support democracy. Clearly the Republicans don't support democracy, nor respect institutional constraints and because of that, disarmed liberals who limit their actions to those respecting institutional constraints and supporting democracy and a future for all of us cannot stop them from their goal of turning the USA into a third world country incapable of defending itself, much less leading the world in creating a better future. In this situation we should abolish the filibuster. Once we have eliminated the bad faith Republican stain in the Senate, we may want to consider it again, in a very limited form.
Ron Bartlett (Cape Cod)
Is there no possibility in our constitution of a public referendum on an issue that forces congress to act?
sal (phila)
"Consensus in the Senate does not mean consensus among voters; it means consensus among partisan lawmakers..." Such an excellent point. If the lawmakers were truly representative we'd have had background checks for gun owners long ago. I'm sick of hearing Trump got 74 million votes. Biden got 81 million. I'd say that's a mandate for change. Ditch the filibuster. If someone who never won the popular vote can seat 3 Supreme Court judges, Biden should be able to sidestep a do-nothing, know nothing Republican party.
WilliamB (Somerville MA)
@sal I'm old enough to remember that when Bush/Cheney were elected, they claimed they had a "mandate" and ran their government accordingly, notwithstanding the fact that they lost the popular vote and were, in effect, elected by a majority of one in the Supreme Court. So yeah.
Don (Philadelphia, PA)
@sal: Excellent points. For those centrist commenters who maintain the position that most voters reject the progressive agenda and the filibuster is useful in holding the line against runaway progressivism, I wonder why issues such as gun control, voting rights, climate change, child care, minimum wage, etc which consistently poll favorably among all citizens, except the top 1% fail to be considered in the Senate simply due to the filibuster?
HOUDINI (New York City)
@sal I agree with your quid pro quo logic. The problem is that the US Gov't is being run by people beholden to other foreign powers. To get a committee of old white men investigating themselves is the definition of dysfunctional. What the Trump presidency (I even hate writing that) showed the world is that the US went from a young African-American Senator who came in for 8 years with not one scandal, to a racist white man who embraced totalitarianism; and still does with his lies about the election being stolen. I know this will test the civility bounds, but the truth will out; Donald Trump is not mentally well. And the strains of what ails him still ail the American Congress. Greed over Good. War profiteering over Peace. And those pesky "wo-men"--if you ever heard Trump speak about how he thinks women ought to be treated, then you know we have not evolved, and in a world of Covid-19, unceasing fires ripping apart habitable land, you cannot attribute natural intuition to a species that continually makes the same mistakes hoping for a different outcome.
Blunt (New York City)
This bill that has been tooted as the best thing since sliced bread is a little bit of a joke. McConnell threw it as a tiny bone to the Democrats so he can then claim that the GOP is bipartisan! 550 Billion of new money is what we are talking about down from 3 Trillion of new money. How much did Afghanistan cost? Iraq? What is the annual waste in the Military budget (remember Grassley's presentation and figures)? Filibuster is an idiotic residue of god-knows what anti-democratic game favored by oligarchs. Jamille is the only Times writer who has the guts and the ethics to say it how it should be said. I am curious to see how Bernie is going to negotiate the budget deal. With Schumer and Pelosi in the helm, it is going it to be almost impossible to outsmart McConnell. It will be Spinozan ethics versus Machiavellian. We progressives have the odds that David had over Goliath. Non-zero but very unlikely.
Songsfrown (Fennario)
The filibuster is the ultimate true and factual example of the poisoned fruit doctrine, ie if the tree is tainted with poisonous toxins the fruit is as well. The filibuster is a racist tool born from the animation of systemic racism in the Senate. Those that continue to support the filibuster are racists. Full stop. Those that vote for white supremacists to represent them in a representative democracy are racists themselves. To ignore the impact and importance of the meaning of words is a form of delusional fantasist denialism itself. There will be no reconciliation without truth.
joann (ny)
What we have now is nothing even remotely related to consensus and deliberation. It's tyranny of the minority, plain and simple. That the less ~1.5 million people that live in North and South Dakota combined have a say equal to the hundreds of millions in NY and CA is beyond absurd. And NOT what the founding fathers had in mind-- its not in the constitution and occurred for the first time in 1837.
Casual Observer (Los Angeles)
The people who do not agree with me are impediments to the welfare of themselves but they are too dumb to know it. It has taken me a long time to gain a majority of the electorate in order to achieve a legislative majority, with a very narrow margin. It is an opportunity for me to enact laws and budgets which will enable me to save the country from those other people. The filibuster is an obstruction that needs to be eliminated. Once the laws are enacted, the electorate will see how right am I and decide to support all that I wanted. From then on the country will be greatly improved and made better. How much of this dreaming do you believe is what to anticipate?
Steve (Charlotte NC)
The Filibuster has degenerated into a corrupt practice that should be eliminated entirely. It's a disgusting impediment to democracy
Ponsobny Britt (FrostbiteFalls, MN.)
The filibuster doesn't actually work. Neither does "trickle-down" economics; that other Republican version of an Old Wives Tale.
Frank Soos (Solvang, CA)
Someone explain to me why the opinions of one Senator from a state such as West Virginia are so important to the nation that all of us give that one person the power to stop legislation for any reason they come up with at any time they desire. If your answer is that we are a republic not a democracy then bravo, you have parroted right wing punditry perfectly. There really is nothing special about the opinions of any Senator on both sides so why are we giving them so much power over 330 million of us?
Jim Propes (Oxford, MS)
I don't mind the concept of the filibuster. I disagree with the current (and relatively modern) rules of the filibuster. Some suggestions: - make the filibuster harder to implement. Perhaps it, too, should require a supermajority, a supermajority of the quorum of the proposing Senator's party, to implement. - a filibuster should only operate with all members present for the duration of the filibuster, with 15-minute 'relief' breaks (i.e., restroom visits) every two hours. - all cell phones would be turned in to the Senate clerk for the duration of the filibuster (no social media, no tweets, no posed pix or videos, nothing. That alone should reduce the appetite for a filibuster. Think Ted Cruz.)) - periodic, regular votes, say, every two hours, to end the filibuster by majority plus 3. Since the filibuster is the interruption of normal Senate business, it should be difficult to implement and maintain. It would still be available, but only for the most serious of objections.
Ryan (Washington)
@Jim Propes I think simply changing the requirement from 60 votes to end debate to 41 to continue debate would greatly change how the filibuster is used. For starters, it would actually require those 41 to be present for the duration of the filibuster. It would make the filibuster a lot more active, drawing media attention, and potentially criticism, to the senators enacting it. This would move the filibuster from something that happens behind closed doors into the spotlight.
Sisko24 (metro New York)
@Jim Propes I think you're on to something big here. The filibuster should be more 'expensive' and more difficult to enact and continue. By all accounts right now it is neither of those things. It's time to make Senators 'put up or shut up' on this matter.
Jordan (Melbourne Fl.)
Let's see if Jemelle hates the filibuster when Republicans take control in 2022
Sisko24 (metro New York)
@Jordan IF the Republicans take control in 2022 (and that's a big 'IF'), and IF (again a big IF) they decide to remove the filibuster, the resulting clarity would be wonderful. Why? The filibuster acts as a cloud of confusion and a mist of mystery where legislation goes to die. And if ('IF') the filibuster were eliminated, the glare of public scrutiny would be intensely focused on whosoever sponsored and/or voted for any backfiring legislation which got passed into law; the sponsor and supporters would not have the fig leaf of the filibuster to shield them from the resulting public scrutiny. Of course, that would also work in reverse, without the filibuster we'd have a very crystal-clear view of who did vote for and who did not whichever legislation. For example, no more anti-Amtrak Senators turning up and taking credit for new Amtrak service they voted against. Or to use a more contemporary example, no more anti-COVID relief politicians crowing to their voters about the help they got them when those same politicians opposed and voted against the legislation which provided the help.
Sgt Schulz (Oz)
So this episode of bipartisanship only happened because everyone got their trotters in the trough.
john wallis (in bed)
Tell that to William Walker
nilootero (Pacific Palisades)
This stanza needs its refrain. I wish that Mr. Bouie would draw on his near encyclopedic command of American history to once again remind us how and when the filibuster has been used in the Senate and by whom to what end. Because it ain't pretty.
Sharon5101 (Rockaway Park)
I am getting sick and tired of all the negativity Times OP ED columnists infuse in their articles. Passing the infrastructure bill is a step in the right direction on the part of Congress. Congress is far from perfect but it can come together on important issues that affect voters of both parties. Our infrastructure is falling apart. Is an aging bridge going to have to fall into a river resulting in multiple deaths before something is done about it?? Or maybe there an ulterior motive behind the negativity. Could it be that the Times and its OP ED columnists want Congress to fail??
Hugh (Los Angeles)
And, once again, I'm avoiding your column.
Stale Frybread (Oakland)
This article is also an argument for getting rid of the Senate altogether, which I think we should consider.
GoldenPhoenixPublishing (Oregon)
At essence, the filibuster favors the past and deprecated the future...
Peter (Maine)
Let's remember we are a republic and not a democracy. The Senate gives both low and high populated states a say in our country's future. This author is for mob rules and that will only lead to the end of our nation.
Jennie (WA)
Bluntly, the filibuster is simply a Senate rule that can and should be changed. The founders wanted to protect minorities from exploitation, not put them in power over the majority.
Blunt (New York City)
@Jennie The founders also wanted slavery to continue forever. Time to stick the founders and the filibuster into the dustbin of history they belong.
Sisko24 (metro New York)
@Blunt Some of the founders wanted slavery to continues. Others wanted it done with and gone right from the 'get-go' but were outvoted and outmaneuvered.
Blunt (New York City)
@Sisko24 Outvoted and outmaneuvered. Like Bernie today. The bad guys seems to win the day. In any case, time to bury that "founding fathers" malarkey. You admit the majority of those guys were bad seeds.
esp (ILL)
What's new here? Many of us already knew this. Not much we can do about it.
Cratewasher (Seattle)
Interesting to note: The term “filibuster” comes from Spanish for “free booting” and originally referred to the pro-slavery mercenaries in the US who wanted to annex Cuba and give it its “independence” from Spain (while granting authority to slave-holding land owners). Biden apparently supports “filibusters” in more than one respect.
Blunt (New York City)
@Katie K. (who likes the article and wants to send it to Senator Sinema). Try getting someone decent to run next time around. Sinema is a lost cause. One someone goes from the dregs of society to the US Senate and still has no ethics but just lust for trinkets from fifth avenue shops, it pains me. This great article would be lost on her. She has the brains to understand it but not the heart.
If you remove the lens of partisanship, you can see what the filibuster really does. It gives great vote to “No” than “Yes”. 41 No’s can beat 59 Yes’s. It’s about time we took away this unequal representation. The country deserves to move forward. We can’t afford to let the No’s dominate our government.
Too Strong (USA)
The Damage Report is live right now on YouTube. Indisputable with Dr. Rashad Richey will be on after.
Robert Henry Eller (Portland, Oregon)
But if your goal is to destroy Constitutional democracy, and possibly set up an Hungarian dictatorship, the filibuster works great.
Jacquie (Iowa)
@Robert Henry Eller We are indeed well on our way to destroying our democracy by all the voter suppression laws in most states. We must pass a voting rights expansion or we lose everything and dark money wins.
Oukie (Washington, DC)
@Robert Henry Eller We do not have a constitutional democracy.
@Robert Henry Eller Indeed, save bipartisanship by saving the filibuster so that we can lose the PARTISAN fight for democracy for good. Then see if the Republicans will ever give back the democracy the Democrats lost to save the filibuster - a bipartisan Senate procedure Mitch will be all too happy to steal just as he did SCOTUS seats.
Pam (Alaska)
The Senate doesn't actually work. It's an anachronistic 18th century version of the House of Lords that is the most unrepresentative elected body on the face of the earth. We should add one senator for each two house districts in each state. This would make it more like the state senates in 49 states. Or we could abolish it, which would make it more like Nebraska. Or we could limit its legislative powers to suggesting amendments to House passed bills, and, with a supermajority vote, vetoing House passed bills . Maintaining the current system is not an option. Our country, and perhaps the planet, cannot survive the 21st century if the US Senate continues to exist in its present form.
Marshall (Waterford, MI)
Couldn't agree more. I cannot find another Senate anywhere in the world that works like the US one. Mexico's Senate seems to have their stuff together more than we do.
Sequel (Boston)
I disagree with the premise that the West VA Senator's pure spin on the value of the 60 vote rule is worthy of a column in the Times. I also disagree with the contention that the problem is "the filibuster". The problem is that every bill is now treated as a filibuster-in-progress, rendering the Senate a non-majoritarian (dysfunctional) body, which in turn has made actual filibusters (always rare) completely unnecessary, and the full Congress a broken institution.
Bret (Chicago)
Congress is broken, and ending the filibuster will not end the problems that plague it. But it will take away a needless weapon used to exacerbate the corporatized, broken system that panders to our lowest sentiments and irrationality.
Frank Roseavelt (New Jersey)
It is not in the Constitution and in fact violates the Constitutional requirement of a majority vote to pass legislation. It has been altered several times in the past. It sets up a situation which defies logic and reason where the minority has more power than the majority. It does not require any expression of views, positions or arguments as had been originally intended. It has simply become one of many weapons the minority wields to stop progress for the majority and the nation. It should be abolished.
John Leonard (Massachusetts)
@Frank Roseavelt : While I agree that the filibuster should be abolished, it does not violate the Constitution. Article I Section 5 clearly states: "Each House may determine the Rules of its Proceedings, punish its Members for disorderly Behaviour, and, with the Concurrence of two thirds, expel a Member." The filibuster is a procedural rule that determines when that vote you write about is held. It's just the authors couldn't imagine a Senate as dysfunctional as the one we have now.
Judy Bloom (Illinois)
@John Leonard So you are saying a "rule" can violate the constitution? That's an interesting viewpoint. I don't agree. The rules need to be constitutional.
Thucydides (Columbia, SC)
@Frank Roseavelt You are right, John Leonard is wrong. Mr. Leonard gives a great deal of weight to the Constitution's "...may determine the Rules..." . However, he goes on to quote the two thirds requirement for expelling members of Congress. The Constitution ALWAYS spells out where a supermajority is needed. The framers thought that it was just common sense that only a simple majority would be all that would be needed; otherwise, what's wrong with rules requiring votes of 70, 85 or 100%?
Arlene (New York City)
The electorate did NOT give Democrats the Majority. We managed to grab victory from the jaws of defeat because Trump, as Republican Messenger, just turned off enough Georgian Voters to win those 2 seats. It is the Republicans who vote in LOCK STEP, not the Democrats. Expecting them to do so on something as volatile as the Filibuster is "going a bridge too far." Now progressive democrats in the House are threatening to withhold their vote for a decent compromise. FOX likes to hype the power of the Progressives. Unfortunately the Progressives are falling into a terrible trap. President Biden and Vice President Harris have to show that they represent all Americans. They can then hope to gain more seats in the House and Senate in 2022. If the Progressives in the House manage to scuttle the Infrastructure Bill, they will also scuttle any chance the Democrats have on keeping their slim hold on Congress.
michaelscody (Niagara Falls NY)
I agree that the filibuster should never have been introduced and that it is time to end it. I also claim that the quorum rule should be eliminated so that a minority group of legislators cannot block legislation by willfully deciding not to show up to do their jobs. This is a representative democracy; when a majority of the legislators are in favor of a bill, it should pass.
Stephen Merritt (Gainesville, Florida)
Mr. Bouie, of course, is right. The problem is that people like Joe Biden seem to have nearly as much trouble learning from experience as Donald Trump does.
Steve Bolger (New York City)
@Stephen Merritt: Biden has lived through the whole decline and fall of the post WW II Senate. It was created to naysay anything in the name of "State's rights" and is lost at everything else.
Too Strong (USA)
Why are blue states paying for red state failures to properly tax? We just built a new bridge in Northern California over to San Francisco. My roads are better than ever. Why are we fixing fed state failures? And we absolutely shouldn’t be regressively taxing the working class through privatizing public infrastructure and creating monopolies we don’t regulate.
Sisko24 (metro New York)
@Too Strong @Too Strong The short answer to your question is that we have revenue sharing amongst the states. That program ought to be ended....now. I live in very 'Blue' state New York and just as in California, we have capital and other needs which we have difficulty in meeting due the requirement that we be taxed and have a substantial portion of our state's income sent to 'Red' states who not only don't properly tax their own, but whose political incompetence is such that they can't even be trusted to insist their own residents have proper electric power in the winter, school funding or good roads, highways and bridges.
W.B. (WA)
When I look at the sums of money about to be wasted to prop up this poisonous way of life I am reminded of the adage "the things you own end up owning you"... the highway system, the culture of cars and driving- these are among the most wasteful, blighted, and expensive things you could own.
KD Lawrence (Nevada)
Gamesmanship has been a cornerstone of America's democracy since at least the late 1980's when Republicans took control, for the most, part of Congress. The filibuster, much like the electoral college, is merely another remnant from the past that allows the few to control the many. It perpetuates minority control over the masses... Unfortunately, when Congress sets laws on a pay-to-play basis with agenda-based lobbyist and special interests doing most of the heavy lifting (e.g., cryptocurrency) nothing really changes --- and, the 576K Wyoming or 1.7M West Virginia residents like it that way.
Doug Terry (Maryland, Washington DC metro)
There has to be a better way! Presently, all someone has to do to block legislation is stand up and say "Filibuster!" and everything comes to a halt. Is that anyway to run a playground? A congress? How many groups that you have worked with or around in your life could reach super majority consensus on anything? We adults love the power of NO!, indeed it is the most powerful word in our vocabulary. Children hear that word about half a million times before they leave the suburban nest and venture out into the world. We have a Senate that, marginally, is only partly representative of democracy. It is heavily weighted to give power and influence to cows in Wyoming over people in Ohio or any other populous states. In turn, the populated rich states send billions of dollars in tax money to those more rural states, probably one of the biggest wealth transfer programs in human history. What's not to like? This undemocratic institution operates undemocratically with the filibuster. PLUS, there is no penalty for those who use this blocking method. None. Nada. Pass GO and collection your paycheck, McConnell and company. This cannot stand. There should be a limit on how many times you can say FILIBUSTER. There should be a cost. Perhaps, too, the number of votes required to shutdown "debate" could be lowered to 54 or 55. Something has to be done because obstructionism is now the prime goal for Republicans when a Dem is in the WH.
Steve Bolger (New York City)
@Doug Terry: Each US state is a corporation chartered by its own constitution. The US scheme of government is a corporation made of corporations.
Doug Terry (Maryland, Washington DC metro)
@Steve Bolger So? What we have now and what was must be changed to suit present and future needs. It is not, as far as I know, written in stone. The tension between the federal enterprise and the states has been a huge factor from the start. Indeed, it nearly caused the Constitution to not be completed. Originally, many thought of the states as predominant and the federal government as a lesser service to the states. It became clear that this would not work well and ever since, especially after the passage of federal income taxes, the federal government has taken a leading role. I do not hold the states themselves in any high regard. For the most part, they consist of arbitrarily drawn lines that sometimes represent common interests but in many cases do not. Democracy must prevail.
fed up (las pulgas)
Once again, you are Confused. While Americans have some limited rights, access to the voting process, and a standard of living far better than countless people, this is Not a Democracy; it's a Plutocracy.
Steve Bolger (New York City)
@fed up: We the voting public elect the board of directors and chief executive officer of the capstone US corporation, its federal government.
trebor (USA)
An aspect of the filibuster which is insufficiently addressed is the fact that it Hides senate action from the public. By current rules, filibusters can be, and most often are done in secret. That keeps vital information from the public about their senators: what they support and do not support. Senators are known to dissemble about their actions, taking credit for popular laws they opposed and vice versa. That lack of rigorous truth telling combined with the filibuster means voters have no good idea what their senators actually do and don't do. The reason senators want to keep the filibuster is The Filibuster Hides Corruption. The filibuster gives the senate a tool to wield the power of big money, financial elite donors with zero visibility to the public. That, by itself, is reason enough to change filibuster rules substantially. Senators Must make their positions known, they must no longer be allowed to hide their behavior. A talking filibuster is a reasonable reform. That way, obstructing senators may receive feedback from the public. If their arguments are persuasive, they could shift public opinion to their cause. If they are simply corrupt, they will bear the brunt of opprobrium. The public needs transparency in government to have some basis for trust. The filibuster is one of the most egregious abuses of transparency and of trust that exist in our government. End it.
Mike Boswell (San Diego)
The filibuster is not the problem, IMHO. The problem is that a Wyoming Senator represents ~300 thousand people, while a Senator from California represents ~20 million people. This is not equal representation, and it explains why our federal government cannot serve the people it supposedly represents.
Steve Bolger (New York City)
@Mike Boswell: Without equal votes for all in federal elections, we don't trust each other to enough to remain a united nation.
Upstate (Buffalo NY)
The House of Representatives is organized based on population, thus California has far more people in Congress than does Wyoming. Each state has two senators to ensure equal representation among the states so that the country is not dominated by 4 or 5 states.
R (CA)
The current filibuster rule is an absurd Senate rule that discourages debate. It’s a rule of debate that allows a Senator to obstruct the will of the Senate majority, without requiring the Senator, who invokes the rule, to actually engage in debate with his fellow Senators.
Steve Bolger (New York City)
@R: Filibustering or not, Senators don't even bother to attend each other's speeches.
Nreb (La La Land)
Uh, there MUST be some check against the crazies in Congress.
Sisko24 (metro New York)
@Nreb But there isn't. Have you never heard of Marjorie Taylor Greene? How did she get into the House of Representatives? Maybe she threatened Jewish space lasers against those who would vote against her?
Socrates (Downtown Verona, NJ)
Disregarding the filibuster for a minute, the 50 Democratic Senators represent 41,549,808 more Americans than the 50 Republican Senators because of the naturally undemocratic structure of the Senate. The simple fact that so many sparsely populated red regressive Republican states collectively have 50 Senators over-representing them in the Senate is absurd. The addition of the filibuster - which is nowhere in the Constitution - to this over-representation - makes an incredibly cruel mockery of representative government. The filibuster should be bulldozed and the Congress must pass a new Voting Rights Act making voting rights great again, outlawing the gerrymander and banning dark campaign financing and limiting campaign finance contributions to $3000 per person, company, entity. The American republic needs to be released from the death grip of its Republican kidnappers. https://www.vox.com/2020/11/6/21550979/senate-malapportionment-20-million-democrats-republicans-supreme-court
Steve Bolger (New York City)
@Socrates: The US public in these regions of sparse population and concentrated power evidently believe that the US Constitution is a divine revelation and any further amendments will initiate an apocalypse.
Lilo (Michigan)
@Socrates It is true that Wyoming, Alaska, N. Dakota, S. Dakota, and Montana don't have a lot of residents. It is also true that Vermont, Delaware, Rhode Island, Maine, New Hampshire, and Hawaii have quite small populations. Yet for some reason we never seem to see the states in the second group picked out as overrepresented in the Senate. It appears that there is partisan annoyance on both sides that the other group even exists and gets to vote. The solution, if someone from another state is upset that voters in smaller population states are voting the wrong way is for people to move there in sufficient numbers to flip the election. This is part of the reason why Georgia now has two Democratic Senators. Equal suffrage in the Senate isn't going away anytime soon. We would need a new Constitution for that, which would require the consent of a great many states that you think shouldn't have equal votes in the Senate.
Blunt (New York City)
@Socrates Amen. Couldn't be said better. While we are at it, I would also bury the constitution which was written before Maxwell gave his brilliant equations (a century later) by slave-owning, wife-cheating amoral white men. We need new rules of governance but more importantly a new political philosophy emphasizing fairness and Justice. Give me Rawls any day over those damned Federalists and their decedents.
TmC (California)
The most compelling argument to preserve the filibuster offered in these comments is that, "Oh, the horror, when Republicans regain the majority in the Senate! The havoc and repression they will wreak on the country with their legislative agenda." First of all, someone is going to need to tell me exactly what that legislative agenda is. Sure, Republicans at the state level are enacting all kinds of bizarre, repressive laws impacting everything from voting to reproductive rights. There's a big difference, however, between the Texas state house and the U.S. Senate, where even the chamber's Sith Lord, Mitch McConnell, appears interested, in a serious legislative sense, only in confirming unqualified, conservative judges and rich guy tax cuts. Attempting to enact any broad social legislative agenda on a national level would risk further exposing them as the hypocrites and reprobates that they are, and, more importantly, alarming all those suburban soccer moms we've been told are essential to winning the White House. Secondly, look at how we're expected to pay for all this infrastructure. Did Senate Democrats demand some return of all those tax dollars lost in 2017 when they were out of power? No, that idea died a slow, quiet death. The bill will be paid for in fees, meaning the middle class, perhaps the biggest casualty of the filibuster, will bear the brunt... again.
Doug Terry (Maryland, Washington DC metro)
The current crop of Republicans in the House and Senate are anti-government. How do you make deals with people like that? What is the basis for starting and then finishing agreements on legislation? McConnell showed during the Obama presidency that the goal was to APPEAR to be trying to work things out and then pull the rug out at the last minute. In the process, along with 400 million in outside spending before the 2010 voting, Obama's presidency was driven close to ruin, his reputation as being weak secured. In "the old days", before wild eyed partisanship became the norm, here's the way bills were passed: Individual members, Senate or House, were allowed to add goodies to bills for their states and districts. Deals were made, people came onboard. Thus, Senator Joe Schmoe or representative Ben Nobody could go home and crow, "I got four new bridges approved", or maybe a railroad museum that no one wanted in the first place. That's also how bridges and museums got named for obscure members of Congress, too. (He fought for us!) This was horse trading on a billion dollar scale. What'd heck, the country was rich, people were moving up the economic ladder, who cared if a few hundred billion were tossed away on projects of doubtful value? The wheels turned, people got jobs and maybe some of it really helped. Now, most deals of any sort are off the table.
Dr. Nunya (The Milky Way Galaxy)
One of the most pressing issues is returning to using society's resources for the purpose of creating humane standards of living for all. We can no longer tolerate a world where a few people live in hyper-luxury while billions of people are deprived of a humane standard of living by greed. It's inhumane and a crime against humanity.
Blunt (New York City)
Filibuster. Where else in the civilized world is such a travesty part of a democracy? I guess since we are an oligarchy, this question is perhaps irrelevant.
Lilo (Michigan)
@Blunt Canada, New Zealand, the UK, France, and Italy all have filibusters or their functional equivalents.
Blunt (New York City)
@Lilo No they don't. What is "functional equivalent" of a filibuster? Send me references please.
Doc (Georgia)
Not to worry. The Filibuster survives, hence the climate collapse continues unabated without ANY meaningful attempt at stalling it. The planet dies, with it- any but pathetic remnants of "civil society". Problem solved.
Upstate (Buffalo NY)
The US can do very little about climate change if China and India are not on board.
LaPine (Pacific Northwest)
Democratic Senators represent 41.5 Million more people than do Republican senators. The Republicans in the Senate haven't represented a majority of the people for the last 25 years. California has a population, 68 times that of Wyoming. Now the Democrats have a slim majority in the Senate they are squandering it, allowing the Republicans to drag their procedural feet, run out the clock until the 2022 election cycle, where, historically, they have picked up seats in the past. 1/3 the Senate is up for re-election, and I bet most Americans don't know this. The Republicans are bringing up the old canards of "deficit", "socialist" spending, which is rich coming from a Cult/Fascist Party with no platform and stands for nothing it did in the past, after passing the Tax cut and "jobs" Act on 2017; claiming it would pay for itself. We are currently $1.5 TRILLION in deficit from that one. Lesson? Republicans lie, Republicans represent the richest .1% donors, and couldn't care less about their voters. When will their voters understand this?
Katie K. (Scottsdale)
Spot on as usual, Mr. Bouie. How do I email this article to my Senator Ms. Sinema?
Blunt (New York City)
@Katie K. Try getting someone decent to run next time around. Sinema is a lost cause. One someone goes from the dregs of society to the US Senate and still has no ethics but just lust for trinkets from fifth avenue shops, it pains me. This great article would be lost on her. She has the brains to understand it but not the heart.
Check out Ezra Klein's filibuster discussion in the Times. Really smart stuff.
Nara (NJ)
If we pose the climate change question as, "are you ok with adding a nominal 10$ to your electricity bill per month and a 2% surcharge on any car that gives less than 50 mpg" I am pretty sure the numbers will not be as good. the problem is not filibuster , the problem is incoherence.
Drew Trott (Northern California)
Bring back the standing filibuster, where objecting senators had to actually defend their decision to block legislation, by standing and speaking in the Senate. The current "cloture rule" is a disaster. As the opinion states, it amplifies the defects already baked into our system by the rule allocating senators by state rather than population. The Electoral College suffers from the same defect. But I'm afraid it's useless to rail against any of these toxic institutions, since there's no way an overrepresented rural state is going to voluntary cede its outsized power -- and there's no way a permanent Republican minority is going to give up its power to block any legislation that doesn't line its own pockets or feed its tribal appetites.
Michael (In the crucible...)
The fact that less than 1 million people live in South Dakota and have the same senate weight as the population of California give them about 50 times more voting power than the residents of the Golden State. The same for many many other states. Put Mitch McConnell on as icing and you can see what we get. Nothing, except more guns and the lessening of women’s rights, vaccine deniers, People who won’t believe science etc etc etc. And there isn’t anything you or I can do about it. Minority rule. the fast track to disaster, in this case.
David Tamanini (Harrisburg, PA)
What if Senate rules said, forty votes are necessary to filibuster a bill? Just wondering if that would require the minority party at the time to show why the bill being offered ought not to proceed. Right now it is not the minority party that can stop a bill, but rather a minority of a minority party.
magicisnotreal (earth)
The work work has many meanings. Ciontextually this is what I think Mr Bouie intends. Work- to produce a desired effect or result
JakeH (Chicago)
Grrr, we must consider the downside of eliminating the filibuster. Few are doing that. The gross malapportionment of the Senate coupled with the urban/rural partisan divide means the following: When Dems are in charge, the filibuster aggrandizes an already unfair red advantage. But when Republicans are in charge, the filibuster mitigates that unfairness and makes the chamber more democratic. So you have to consider the likelihood that the Senate will be controlled by Republicans (which is the statistically more likely result on average) and the decent possibility that the House and White House will go red too. In that case, we can expect the GOP to roll back decades of hard-won heretofore sticky Democratic achievements. We'll see attacks on health care, labor, the environment, and, indeed, the bulk of the administrative state, which is how most things get done at the federal level. The historical/political context is that we've made a bargain: we've limited Congress's ability to act, but we've greatly enlarged the president's and the agencies'. This bargain should suit Dems well -- they're the ones who want to do stuff, and it's a lot easier for an executive to do stuff than two legislative bodies. The EPA, for example, is already empowered under the Clean Air Act to limit greenhouse gas emissions; the GOP, without the filibuster to stop them, would undoubtedly strip or limit that power. We have a system that can work okay for Dems; the alternative could be far worse.
Kevin Skiles (Salem, Oregon)
Has there ever been a study that predicts what shape this country would be in if every progressive policy on social welfare that Republicans have opposed was struck down?
hwk (Baltimore, Maryland)
The filibuster is the invocation of the Senate rule allowing unlimited debate. Yet when the minority invokes the filibuster, there is no debate at all unless 60 senators vote to end debate, at which point debate can begin. How bizarre is that?
John MD. (N.J.)
The Senate is divided 50-50 for a reason. Half of the voters want the Senate to be controlled by Democrats and half by Republicans. Without the filibuster, and with the Democratic VP, the Republicans would have little or no voice in the Senate. The Democrats could pass any law without a single vote from the Republicans. Half of the country would not be represented. With the filibuster at least some level of compromise is required for a bill to pass.
Pete (California)
@John MD. You are wrong. A lot more than 1/2 the voters, in the millions, elected Democratic Senators. Keep this up, and hurricanes and out of control fires will be just the beginning of the plagues visited upon us.
Dr. Nunya (The Milky Way Galaxy)
@John MD. More than half the country's ctizens are not Republicans and the senate is already biased towards states with small populations. The majority don't want Republicans having any power over them. Why would they? Republicans serve the greedy few.
Twain's Ghost (Rocky Mountains)
As always Mr. Bouie, you make excellent, and logical points, but really, the proof that the filibuster doesn't work is much much simpler: it enables a minority to tyrannize the majority. Since when does 40% rule equal democracy? Moreover, all of your excellent points fall on willfully deaf ears and blind eyes. We may not yet be able to end this tool of minority tyranny, but its days must surely be numbered.
Steve Bolger (New York City)
@Twain's Ghost: US oaths of office plea for help from God. Is there any on the way?
L. Edward Phillips (Decatur, Georgia)
Ending the senate filibuster rule is a risk, as others point out. However, I suspect the effect might actually help the process of compromise between the parties since the minority party would need to propose serious, reasonable, and persuasive arguments to any majority proposal with which they disagree. That would work for both parties!
Sisko24 (metro New York)
@L. Edward Phillips Yes! Someone else gets it! Thank you!
Ari Platt (NYC)
if the dems were using a filibuster to thwart the GOP from passing something mr. bouie detests, he would be cheering. gimme a break. finding an intellectually honest opinion writer these days is as rare as hens' teeth.
A Gnome Named Grimble Grumble (The Gates Of Dawn)
What a difference a year makes! Number of times Democrats filibustered in 2020: 327 Number of times NYT columnists complained about those 327 filibusters: 0
A Gnome Named Grimble Grumble (The Gates Of Dawn)
@A Gnome Named Grimble Grumble And that was when there was a true “majority” and “minority”, not a 50-50 split.
Padonna (San Francisco)
Why all the hand-wringing? Let's not talk about abolishing the filibuster. Let's talk about restoring it to its previous incarnation: the senator stands in the well of the senate and filibusters, with no podium to lean on and layered in protective undergarments. The current end-run around the Constitution -- when senators say "I don't like this" and then go home -- needs to end. Let the filibuster, and the filibusterers, be tried in the court of public opinion: C-SPAN 2. My hunch is that an informed public will not have much tolerance for well-paid time-wasters.
Bill (New York)
The filibuster worked perfectly against the partisan, unconstitutional power grab that was HR1, the ludicrously misnamed For the People or voting rights bill.
Eric (California)
Let’s keep the 60% threshold but change it to be 60% by population represented. I think that’s the best compromise.
Pete (California)
@Eric Actually a brilliant idea, one that does not require a Constitutional amendment!
Michael (Stockholm)
Preaching to the choir, Mr. Bouie. Try your hardest to get this published on a right-wing and/or conservative newspaper.
JP (Virginia)
A lot of this feels like a re-run of 2009-2010. Biden and the Dems are completely squandering the moment through this obsession with "bipartisanship".
Tankylosaur (Princeton)
Congress is infested with those openly supporting an armed insurrection, yet our "government" is unable to surgically remove that cancer. Our SCOTUS died over 20 years ago and its corpse is infested with rotting maggots packed in by Putin's minions. Filibuster? It's like arguing which breath mint to give someone dying of COVID.
michjas (Phoenix)
Mark my words. The most ambitious of all the proponents of bipartisanship is Senator Kyrsten Sinema. She’s got chutzpah, she’s eccentric, she’s been voted the most attractive woman in Congress, she’s got style, she’s a good debater and she gets what shat wants. Assuming Biden doesn’t run, Sinema will win. Women will get their first President. And the shoe fits. She’s one of a kind.
Kevin Skiles (Salem, Oregon)
Of course, she'll win as a conservative Republican.
michjas (Phoenix)
@Kevin Skiles No, no. Didn’t you read the piece. It isn’t that bipartisanship are conservative. It’s that they’re neither this or that.
Andrew D (Miami beach)
550 billion over the next five years? Isn’t more than that spent on National Security yearly? It doesn’t really seem like a lot of money, compared to the capital needed to address crumbling America.
Harjit Singhrao (San Bruno)
Filibuster only doesn't work when cry baby Democrats get their way get rid of everything create a welfare USA country
Jason Vanrell (NY, NY)
@Harjit Singhrao We non-Republicans actually care about things such as science, R&D. infrastructure investment and most importantly, education, so one can effectively make their point by means of a coherent sentence.
Kurt Freitag (Newport, Oregon)
What everyone seems to miss is that this dispute is integral to the core distinction between political parties. Republicans arise, in general, from the old Tories, who in favor of the status quo, which is to say, leave things the way the USED to be. That is achieved by having NO new legislation passed, so if they could get away with a unanimous vote to change anything, they would be content. Democrats are the old Whigs who stand for always looking for something better, no matter how well what we have might seem to work. As such, they are going to favor anything that results in ease of passage of new legislation. So talking about what actually "works" misses the point, since one side specially does not WANT the legislative process to work.
Don (Tucson, AZ)
Agree, but I'd put the issue differently. Whatever legislative majority is present deserves the power to implement the policies they were elected for, and when the majority changes party the new one deserves the power to implement their different policies and undo previous policies - if they dare. The minority deserves the power to make public and transparent their opposition to what the majority is doing, make public persuasive arguments for different policies, and provide compromise to create bipartisan alternatives - i.e. create a momentary new majority. The current filibuster undercuts all of this.
Terry Roberts (Brookings, Oregon)
The filibuster is democracy buster when one of only two parties is actively against compromise - against democracy. OUR GREATEST ENEMY IS AND HAS BEEN THE GOP and every Judas Christian Republican. The Christians have made America the most war mongering and jail stuffing country on earth. And they have turned America over to the wealthy who have made it the most UNEQUAL of modern democracies. America is in a state of shame - and our majority Christians are to blame - them and their putrid stinking GOP - the enemy of life on earth.
Charlie (Austin)
Okay, I'll say it: The 60-vote rule is just stupid. -C
Asher Fried (Croton-on-Hudson NY)
The filibuster is a tool for obstruction not for compromise, period , or like Porky Pig likes to say “That’s all folks!”
Dwight McFee (Toronto)
Any democracy requires good faith actors. Democrats are viciously attacked for good faith while the republicans are lauded for their nasty and craven responses to actual majorities, climate change being the most devastating, 69% believe something should be done. These bad faith Republican actors are corporatists. See Joe Manchin and The Grim Reaper. The US is one big corporation run for the benefit of the polluting industries and financial global mega billionaires. The vast right wing OZification of society ( looking at you Rand Paul). The possible end of humanity for a luxury yacht? And let us not forget the beginning of this adventure to hell began with the dropping of the nuclear bombs in Japan because…you could even when not necessary. The US is bereft of faith in the species other than as a transaction. The filibuster is not in your constitution. Get rid of it and you will have more give and take and the ‘leader’ would not have so much power. It would be in the legislators hands not the leadership. Which is why most citizens can be polled wanting universal health care but never see that because…well Mitch and his courtiers and their godly work of corporations!
tsqlguy (vermont)
super majorities are a concept explicitly stated in the constitution and currently cloture requires a vote of 3/5s to end debate The line from this piece that makes me laugh is Consensus in the Senate does not mean consensus among voters; it means consensus among partisan lawmakers in the context of equal state representation. well Jamelle welcome to a representational democracy. I know it sucks but as winston churchill said, it's not so bad when you consider the alternative
Justin Dale (San Diego)
It seems to me that that stated goal of the filibuster 'to encourage bipartisanship and consensus' is already built into the system of governance, in that we have two branches of congress AND the president, all of whom would have to agree before a bill gets passed. THEORETICALLY there is plenty already to force consensus, and certainly the minority party has nothing to complain about. If they can't hold either the house, senate or presidency, then they don't represent enough citizens to force compromise. However, on the Democrats' side, because of gerrymandering and the cap on the house, as we saw in 2016 they CAN be locked out of all 3 positions, even while holding the majority of citizens. Thus, to me the only REAL argument for keeping the filibuster is that it ends up being the only backstop against the minority party running away with the football when they hold all 3 branches. Personally, I would still take my chances and get rid of it, and then amend voting rights to ban gerrymandering and reset that house seats.
Sherry (Washington)
Yesterday I listened to Fox News for a couple of hours to hear how they’re spinning the climate warning, but they did not report about it at all. Instead, they reported that Cuomo cupped an aides’ breast; that requiring children to be masked in school was an abomination; and that the Wuhan virus was manufactured in a lab. When Dr. Redfield (of the Wuhan lab conspiracy) went on to say that the most important thing to do to stop the spread of the virus and to stop it from mutating was to get vaccinated they cut him off. That’s what passes for “news” in Republican-land. To trust them with governance, let alone the power to stop governance, is asinine.
Jay Orchard (Miami Beach, FL)
If the laws of this country were determined purely by majority rule, minorities would not enjoy the legal protections that they currently have. Pure majority rule leads to mob rule.
Mack (Long Beach, CA)
@Jay Orchard States with low populations get the same amount of senators with large populations. So how is this majority rule again? Protection against majority rule is already baked into the constitution with the way senators are apportioned and the division of government. Think before you write.
David (Chicago)
“Once again” Mr Bouie is preaching this progressive winner-take-all politics where the party winning an election by a single vote gets to do whatever they want. This political attitude has led us to where we are. “Once again” Mr Bouie ignores how the filibuster makes sure that judicial nominees are more moderate with bi-partisan support . . . oh wait! Democrat Harry Reid blew that up for us didn’t he? Oh well . . . “Once again” Mr Bouie wants to skip the heavy lifting of dialog, mutual respect, negotiation and compromise in favor of following the path-of-least-resistance of one party absolute rule (as long as it is Democrat) simply because he’s not getting what he wants. “I’m telling you” those who want to kill the filibuster are pouting babies, only interested in getting what they want. They are so frustrated they want to change the rules instead of working inside of them. Mr Bouie’s total condescension of bi-partisan measures that have passed as “low partisan salience” simply reveals his “we vs they” mentality. As someone once said: I’d rather be ruled by the first 2000 names in a phone book than by someone like Mr Bouie.
Kev (Sun diego)
Every 2 to 3 days the editorial team pulls straws and whoever gets the short one must write an article about why the filibuster is bad. Today Mr. Bouie pulled the short straw. Great job coming up with some fresh content.
alan (MA)
Why not just return the filibuster to it's old form. That being holding the floor. Let's get back to forcing Ted Cruz to spend hours reading nursery rhymes on the Senate floor.
Sisko24 (metro New York)
@alan No, let's get back to making Sen. Cruz demonstrate his Harvard education by actually speaking about the bill he's opposing. No more nursey rhymes or Dr. Seuss on the floor of the Senate from him. Besides, (...The Cat in the Hat Already Knows about That...).
Sterling (South Slope)
The filibuster allows for white minority rule. That’s all that matters to a party as committed to white supremacy as the GOP.
Steve Bolger (New York City)
The US Senate is an institution that can be put out of its misery without killing anyone. It makes no sense whatsoever to have a purportedly representative body that is irrelevantly apportioned for everything.
j (toronto)
please continue with pushing abolish the filibuster along with defund the police and critical race theory... Regards, GOP
Mark Nuckols (Riga)
All fair points. But this horse has already been flogged to death, and Manchin seems determined not to budge.
Robert David South (Watertown NY)
The Senate is part of the systemically racist US Government, so anything that makes it dysfunctional is good, an act to dismantle oppression.
J. Ó Muirgheasa (New York, NY)
It does work if you actually don't want to pass progressive agenda, and want to use it as an excuse to keep your donor class happy. Then it absolutely *chef's kiss* works!
mancuroc (rochester)
What's the difference between voting by Senators and voting by citizens? Easy. Both of our votes enshrine or skew towards minority rule. 10:30 EDT, 08/10
Doug Terry (Maryland, Washington DC metro)
In "the old days", before screaming partisanship became the norm, here's the way bills were passed in Congress: Individual members, Senate or House, were allowed to add goodies to bills for their states and districts. Thus, Senator Joe Schmoe or representative Ben Nobody could go home and crow, "I got twelve new bridges approved", or maybe a railroad museum that no one wanted in the first place. That's also how bridges and museums got named for obscure members of Congress, too. (He fought for us!) This was horse trading on a billion dollar scale. What'd heck, the country was rich, people were moving up the economic ladder, who cared if a few hundred billion were tossed away on projects of doubtful value? The wheels turned, people got jobs and maybe some of it really helped. All of this was before Senate Republicans found obstructionism as their main cause, joined by nihilists in the House. The current goal? To prove that no Democrat in the White House can do anything worthwhile. And, if something actually passes, the next goal is to undermine the project as yet another example of how Democrats overspend and fail repeatedly. The "log jam" appears to be breaking, or opening a bit, because, 1. infrastructure has been ignored for so long, threatening catastrophic dam failures and bridge collapses and, 2. There are enough senators who finally realize that there is something good in spending for their home states. This is no hallelujah! moment, in other words.
Carl LaFong (New York)
Mr. Bouie, here's what doesn't work...if you're a Democrat and the majority in the Senate is Republican. It can and will happen sometime in the future. The filibuster is the only way to get bipartisanship in Government to work.
JohnK (Durham)
Imagining the impossible, both senators from each state should be elected in the same year, with one vote per constituent. 33% of the vote would be enough to win a seat. Millions of unrepresented California Republicans and Texas Democrats might be represented.
Doug (WV)
Can you please point out all the "Opinions" you wrote about abolishing the filibuster when the Republicans held the majority? Did you write any opinions tsk tsking the Democrats when they invoked the filibuster over the last 4-5 years?
M. (Central Indiana)
@Doug I think that you are missing the point. It is well past time to move beyond the filibuster. The party with the best ideas wins. If your party loses, win back power by working on your ideas.
Blunt (New York City)
@Doug You are missing the point. When something is idiotic as the filibuster which is part of our oligarchic government and not part of any other functioning democracy around the globe, it is not about "writing opinions" about the pros and cons but pointing out the absurdity of the proposition at all times. Bouie has argued forcefully against illogical, oligarchic practices. The fact that you ask this question and the Times picks it tells me more about where we stand in this country than a million editorials.
Big Euge (Central Maine)
@Doug your reply made me laugh: you got him on a technical. But it's not the point he's making. There's always someone in the crowd, usually form the GOP it seems lately, who calls a technical foul and then starts an insurrection, or something like that.
Pete (California)
The senseless Constitutional rule requiring small population states to have a voice in the Senate equal to that of large population states is at the root of our dysfunction and impending failure as a democracy. More reporting needs to be done to document the ways in which large fossil fuel corporations have targeted small states, by wedding their majority’s endemic racism, homophobia and general quasi-religious parochialism to a message opposing climate change legislation. The whole “social conservative” program is, for these corporations, just the necessary wrapping around a poison package that holds amoral and inhumane corporations to be “persons,” and promotes burning coal, oil and gas as a sacred liberty. The filibuster magnifies this cynical electoral strategy, allowing it to paralyze the nation in a moment of crisis at the least possible cost to the fossil fuel industry. Wake up, folks. We need several more Democratic Senators to make our internal traitors in the Senate irrelevant and begin to unlock the logjam.
Gustav Aschenbach (Venice)
Negotiating a Bill isn't *voting* for it. Bipartisanship hasn't happened yet. We saw this numerous times under Obama: the rot wing "negotiate" and then pull their support at the vote. The theory that ending the filibuster will hurt Democrats when they are in the minority is moot: republicans have no respect or regard for the Democrats when they're in the majority, let alone in the minority. If they played by the rules, they wouldn't have canceled Obama's final Supreme Court appointment, nor the hundreds of other Court appointments during his 8 years. Republicans are an anti-democracy movement: they have one goal: one-party minority rule.
Father Eric F (Cleveland, Ohio)
Call the filibuster what it is: a minoritarian veto over the actions of the majority of the Senate, a majority (as currently constituted) elected by a significant majority American voters. It was conceived as, and has most often (until recently) been used for, protection of the interests of slave-holding (now bigoted white majority) states. It's not simply a parliamentary procedure; it's an anti-democratic (lower-case "d") abomination that must be thrown forcefully into the dustbin of the nation's racist past (in hopes of remedying its racist present).
larry bennett (cooperstown ny)
Kill the filibuster. If that proves unworkable a simple majority vote could reinstate it. The irony is built in.
Chris (SW PA)
The filibuster can only block things. Nothing good can ever come from it. Only stagnation. To implement the filibuster consistently is the same as to attack your own country. It is the south still fighting the war of northern aggression. They would rather destroy the country than allow true democracy. It also happens to work well for the corporations who fund them, because there is no way to reverse the corporations purchase and perversion of government. You'll never find a republican who would stand up to corporations. A racist base and corporate funders work together to make the country an oligarchy that the republicans have always dreamed of. We don't call our corporate overlords master, but they for intents and purposes are.
johnlo (Los Angeles)
Is someone keeping count of the anti-filibuster articles published by the NYTs since January 2021? We'll need to compare the number of pro-filibuster articles that will be published from January 2023 through December 2024. I'm certain the numbers will be comparable.
Bothwell (Bay of Bothnia)
And, of course, there's the "Back-Door Filibuster", as enacted by McConnell, so as to simply not waste the precious time of the Do-Nothing Republicans to continue to do.... nothing. The "Back-Door Filibuster" is when the House passes a Bill and sends it to the Senate to vote on it. For the past 12 years or so (at least!) those passed Bills have landed on Mitch's desk.... and sat there. Dead. Didn't even get a debate. No change in wording or financing. Mitch's Desk: the "Black Hole of USA Legislation". Didn't even get sent back to the House for 'further considerations'. Over 200 wound up on that hallowed ground just in the last year or two. So, there's more than one way to cripple this country. Just ask Mitch. He knows them all. Someday, America, you're going to get sick of such sick nonsense. Something 'important' is going to wind up in that "Black Hole" and your life is going to depend on whatever it was.
R.P. (Bridgewater, NJ)
The Dems used the filibuster hundreds of times during the last 4 years, including famously to obstruct Senator Tim Scott's police reform bill. You didn't hear anything about how awful and supposedly racist the filibuster was during this period. Now that the Dems are in the majority, suddenly they want to throw the filibuster out. The hypocrisy is staggering. The Republicans show play a video on loop, showing Dem leaders such as Obama, Biden, Dick Durbin, etc. etc. endlessly praising the filibuster as necessary to democracy.
Sisko24 (metro New York)
@R.P. Your very first sentence defeats your point. If Senator Scott's police reform bill was good and necessary, then the filibuster (wrongly) stopped it from being considered and passed. So the filibuster is a problem for our democracy. That both parties use it is no justification. That's like justifying and excusing a crime one commits by saying that the other guy did it (or does it) as well. That may be true, but it doesn't change how wrong it is.
jkw (nyc)
Why does all of this stuff need to be federal used? Put energy into your own community.
bill zorn (beijing)
i wonder how much stuff the filibuster prevented during the last administration.
Oukie (Washington, DC)
Please change it if you must! The Senate will be under Republican control shortly.
Jim (Placitas)
What the filibuster --- or, as it should more appropriately be labelled, "minority roadblock" --- ultimately leads to is the even more disastrous "referendum initiative". If you want to see what legislative disaster looks like, complete with majority overreach, a completely undecipherable ballot, poorly written ballot measures that result in unenforceable or unconstitutional legislation that resides in the courts for years on end... check out the California ballot initiative process. The issue here is not the filibuster itself. On its own, the filibuster has a reasonably sound basis, mainly that it provides the minority some leverage in what would otherwise be a ram-it-down-their-throats legislative process. The issue is that the filibuster has been weaponized by senators acting in bad faith once they realized it could be used not just as a way to protect their constituencies from unbridled majority rule, but as a means of obstruction. Intent is the issue. Changing the process without changing the format is pointless. Get rid of the filibuster and the Democratic majority rules until they don't, at which point the Republican majority rules until they don't. This fixes nothing. What needs to change is the 2 Senators per state format. When the 600,00 residents of Wyoming have as many senators as the 38 million people of California we have a formula for minority tantrums, which is what we see in the Senate now.
PR (San Diego, CA)
@Jim Article V of the Constitution, concerning amendment to it, first provides the standard 2/3rds + 2/3rds requirement. But then there are two exceptions. The second states as follows: “no state, without its consent, shall be deprived of its equal suffrage in the Senate.” So what you suggest will never, ever happen.
coale johnson (5000 horseshoe meadow road)
the human race has reached a tipping point on climate change. to reach this tipping point we did not need even a majority of ignorant humans.... but we do need a super majority of scientifically aware humans and we don't have it.
daisy love (Los Angeles)
Correct once again! But let's go further and do away with the Senate altogether. A useless body of almost all men, almost all white, who will never reflect the U.S.
Oregonian (Eugene OR)
bigbigJOE (us)
Simple majority rules, not super majority.
Bklynboy (NYC)
I'm telling you again, the fillibuster DOES work. It forces compromise, or else we'd be subject to widely varying policies dependent on which party is the majority. Your immediate goal is getting progressive Dem priorities approved. But here's a truth: If the GOP controlled the Senate and House and Republican lawmakers sought an end to the filibuster to pass R priorities, you'd be screaming NOOOOO!
M. (Central Indiana)
@Bklynboy I'm a Democrat living in a gerrymandered Congressional district, a red state that harasses our blue city (e.g. attacking public transportation before it has a chance to get off the ground), a country in which tiny states have two senators, and I am in the progressive majority. Believe me, I am skilled at compromise, seeing the other's side pov, etc. -- I do it every day in Indiana. You speak of compromise, but at a certain point (we are there now), the minority is ruling the majority. That doesn't only not make sense, but it is undemocratic.
Chris (California)
@Bklynboy We should be subject to varying policies based on which party is in the majority. If a party convinces enough voters to win the House, the Senate, and the White House, they have won the right to implement their ideas within Constitutional bounds.
Doc (Georgia)
@Bklynboy Bogus. The vast majority of Americans think or at least hope, that we live in a government that operates on a "majority" NOT a "supermajority", with the rights of the minority protected by the checks and balances of the Courts. That was the clear intention of the framers with the use of the F-buster grossly distorted and misused. The Republicans are systematically dismantling any pretense at democracy using (also) obscene gerrymandering and voter suppression (and dark money) There is nothing more left to lose in this fight.
Sergio (California)
Do left-leaning people believe Republicans won’t ever control 51 votes in the senate again? Can you imagine what kind of awful legislation they will pass if Democrats don’t have the filibuster?
magicisnotreal (earth)
@Sergio Actually if we get rid of the filibuster and pass the new voting rights act they may never hold the majority again. That is after all the whole point of their assault to capture the states starting in the 80's and why they are restricting voting rights in those states and making it legal to decide regardless of the vote who wins.
popover less time (NY)
@Sergio If the GOP needs to kill the filibuster to achieve its goals, it will. Look at the two carve outs: judges and tax cuts. Carveouts created by the GOP to allow GOP interests to be advanced.
Steve Bolger (New York City)
@Sergio: I think the US will choke to death on the Roman Relic Senate.
Marvin (California)
"Consensus in the Senate does not mean consensus among voters; it means consensus among partisan lawmakers in the context of equal state representation." Uh, that is exactly what it is SUPPOSED to be, equal representation of states. You have the House for population representation. And states are comprised of voters who can, and do, willingly move to states that reflect their views, wants and needs. Just as the SCOTUS is not meant to represent the wishes of voters or states. House represents voters at large. Senate represents states. SCOTUS represents the Constitution. It is how it is designed to work.
popover less time (NY)
@Marvin It's a terrible design. The original design of the Constitution was also designed to keep blacks enslaved and deny women the right to vote.
Karen (Bay Area)
The House size was last adjusted in 1918. If it was the representative body of Congress, as you assert, the gross number would have been increased every 20 years or so. Then apportioned to the states according to population. Having failed to do so, our largest states—California, Texas, New York and Florida do not get represented in the House either.
dr. c.c. (planet earth)
Our democracy dies in the Senate and the Courts. The founders didn't intend that.
Steve Bolger (New York City)
@dr. c.c.: They tried to prevent it, with "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion". The US was founded during a brief historical period when "keep it real" was a level playing field for development of institutions.
Ernest Montague (Oakland, CA)
@dr. c.c. Have you ever read the Constitution? It is the founding document of a Democratic Republic, not a direct Democracy. There is a reason for that. What reason? So that 50.00001% of the people can not decide to take the wealth of 49.9999% of the people.
rich (hutchinson isl. fl)
It not only doesn't work, it is a corruption of the internet of the Founders. The founders designed the Senate as a balance to the more democratic people's House, and they provided for unlimited debate to help achieve that goal. The debates were to allow the sides of arguments to be presented to the people with facts and reason. But the non speaking filibuster was not part of their plan, because allowing unlimited debate without debating taking place, certainly was not.
Steve Bolger (New York City)
@rich: The US Senate was established to allow any state to veto anything to preserve semi-autonomy of statehood.
rich (hutchinson isl. fl)
@Steve Bolger The Civil War proved that to be nonsense.
Geoffrey James (Hollis)
Biden proves bipartisanship works, which saves the filibuster, which then destroys democracy, which then prevents action on climate change, which then destroys the planet. Yay.
Steve Bolger (New York City)
@Geoffrey James: Nothing exists in the realm of physics without coexisting with its opposite. But there are any number of dimensions coexisting in the same place at the same time.
Joseph Huben (Upstate NY)
The filibuster is simply a denial of majority rule, of democracy, of government of, by and for the people. The filibuster is a clumsy effort to alter the Constitution and reassert “aristocratic” veto power. Terminating the filibuster is an essential reform needed to restore faith in Government. Joe Manchin and Krysten Sinema cannot hide their shameful motives and their rationalizations are transparent lies.
David Potenziani (Durham, NC)
Mr. Bouie writes that "as long as the Senate privileges partisan minorities over everything other than overwhelming bipartisan majorities, there’s little chance of progress on any of our most pressing issues." Inequality of American rights is based on our long—very long—racist history. (Heather McGhee surveys this history in her book, The Sum of Us.) Racism and white privilege are baked into our society and government. The filibuster is legislative gluten tying a lot of structural racism together. Without it, some but not all, of the issues we face would be addressed. Better schools—check. Better retirement protections—check. Better environmental protection—check. Better voting protections—check. But the old style racist politicians, such as Strom Thurmond or Richard Russell, have been replaced by secret, dark money PACs fueled by billionaires. They've put a mask on top of a mask to protect what they are doing to subvert democracy. Ending the filibuster won't solve our problems, but it will make solving them possible.
M Harvey (FL)
Senate functions for bridges, yes. But that's a marker for blocking anything else. Who could be against bridges? But budget busting "socialist" programs, NO! Easy campaign slogan for Republicans.
Bothwell (Bay of Bothnia)
We are the laughing stock of the world. We proclaim 'democracy' and then we come up with gems like the Electoral College and the filibuster. No other democracy in the world has such autocratic loopholes. It is "majority wins", and a "majority" is "the vote plus one". How many are dead since the vote for background checks failed? Shame. Someone show me exactly where the filibuster is in the wording of the Constitution.... and don't bother showing me where it states that the Senate gets to write any rules it wants. I would have bought that 40 years ago, but not anymore. Show me.
Todd (Key West)
Where was the author's complaints about the filibuster when the Democrats were using it to block various parts of Trumps agenda during his first 2 years in office? Obviously a rhetorical question. But the fact he fails to understand that history shows there are no permanent majorities in our system and abolishing the filibuster would eventually leave his side impotent to slow or stop the other side's wish list amazes me.
AG (Sweet Home, OR)
Or we could just get rid of the Senate entirely, or emasculate it like the Brits did with the House of Lords that the Senate is based on. We don't need two legislative bodies, much less one controlled and run by billionaires. That said, ditching the filibuster would be an improvement.
Clark (DC)
Once Again, I’m Telling You That the Filibuster Does Actually Work. And has worked for more than 200 years.
Ellen (NYC)
Bipartisanship? Who cares. Why is this the holy grail vs just representational democracy? Why is giving more power to individuals in sparsely populated states even something considered worthy of consideration. The Senate itself is anti-democratic and the filibuster only magnifies the power of people in ND vs CA.
Paul Wortman (Providence)
If the filibuster is such a marvel of democracy and bipartisanship, then why did Democrat Harry Reid remove it when considering presidential appointments? And, why did Republican Mitch McConnell invoke the "nuclear option" by removing it to confirm candidates to become Supreme Court justices? The bipartisan hypocrisy is suffocating; it's suffocating our democracy when it comes to the environment, and when it comes to free and fair elections. It is a tool of minority rule that is now if full rebellion against the very Constitution that they claim the filibuster protects and supports.
LongTimeFirstTime (New York City)
The warming analysis is odd. Do you really think legislation ever reflects the will of the people? Or even the voters? It's the DONORS, Jamelle, who decide what becomes law.
mosenblum (Illinois)
If Joe Manchin does not get on board with his Democratic colleagues to end the filibuster, he could go down in history as the one man who could have saved our democracy but failed to act. Out of his quibbling over preserving an archaic Senate procedure which is of no use other than to block legislation which one party deems unworthy of enactment, he will have cleared the path for the American insurrectionists to take charge of the country. Although I suspect that Mr. Manchin would not be particularly proud of a legacy of this sort, his inability to see the forest for the trees could well mark him as a man who should have known better but who, out of a stubborn refusal to change his stance on this ridiculous senate "rule", effectively gave aid and comfort to our domestic enemies. Please, Senator--rethink your position and carry out your patriotic duty to the nation.
Alan Mass (Brooklyn NY)
@mosenblum Joe Machin doesn't honestly defend the filibuster. He isn't a principled statesman. He is a lonely Democratic national office-holder in a solidly red state. If he supported the end of this device that has been mostly used historically to block progressive legislation, the GOP would seriously and successfully oppose his re-election.
Deutschmann (Midwest)
From your lips to Joe Manchin’s ears, which are plugged with money from the fossil fuel industry.
Frank (Québec)
So, if I understand your system, 60% of your senators must agree before global warming is permitted in the world's greatest democracy ever. Does that seem right to you folks sweating it out there this week? It doesn't make sense to me, but if it feels good, I suppose you will do it.
Al (NJ)
It boggles the mind why the party in power would negotiate with obstructionists who by and large supported an insurrection and absolved the inciter of any wrongdoing. They should never be brought back to the table again.
DP (Rrrrrrrrth)
Philosophical question: Is a debate really a debate if there is no one there to listen to the arguments? When was the last time you were not required to actually be at your job when doing your job? (Even in these Covid Times we have been tethered to our computers) Well, when there is debate in the senate or in the house, there is nobody actually listening to the debate, because Congresspeople are all out raising money in phonebanks, and Senators are off doing their REAL job - raising money for their political parties and their reelection campaigns. Time to get money out of politics, and if the filibuster is to remain, let the filibustering Senator actually hold the floor, and require that ALL Senators not in another committee hearing or meeting actually be there to listen to it. I think you would see a distinct change in the use of the filibuster.
haigh (NY)
If only 36 percent of Republicans say that the country ought to prioritize reducing the effects of climate change compared with 87 percent of Democrats, what else need be said? Anyone that doesn't recognize global warming as a global emergency may not be certifiably insane but they are certainly certifiably incompetent to lead or even select leadership. That such a large segment of our population is incapable of or unwilling to exercise simple critical thinking is as terrifying in itself. Any voter who disregards scientific consensus on important issues is not someone we should be struggling to find consensus with, our struggle should be to get like thinking (as in, rational) people to the polls and hope there are more of us than them. Too bad our constitution is tilted in a way that gives the "fuzzy thinkers" a huge tactical advantage at the moment- they tend to reside in less populated, more rural states and are disproportionately represented in the senate. Bouie is right- supporting the filibuster is literally suicide.
Al (Ohio)
The filibuster is a loop hole for the losers in democracy to maintain unjustified power and influence. Infustructure passes because everyone wins; but the filibuster makes sure that those who are already short changed in our democracy remain so until a symbolic supermajority agrees otherwise.
Sarah W (Brooklyn)
Defending the filibuster is a total fraud. There is no more consequential, irreversible vote a senator can make than voting to affirm a Supreme Court Justice. When McConnell got Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court with a simple majority he destroyed any defense of the filibuster,
Guido (Cincinnati)
Proper, efficient, effective infrastructure demands foresight instead of hindsight. Ditto for bipartisanship. In this day and age, both are dysfunctional examples of American ingenuity as ludicrous as putting the cart before the horse. Look around the 'developed' world and see how it's done. Ours is an example of what can go wrong.
Doug McDonald (Champaign, Illinois)
Of course the filibuster works. It works as its originators and the Founders intended: it gives power to the States. That's good. It means that leftist States can't force all their leftist rules on people in centrist or rightest States that want to be free. Its that simple.
Alan Mass (Brooklyn NY)
@Doug McDonald How does you analysis square with the GOP's blocking of voting rights legislation by filibuster? That legislation would have enhanced freedom of the individual and stopped any effort by state legislatures to cancel the voters' choice of who should be president. Freedom-loving adults don't need Big Daddy to make their decisions for them.
haigh (NY)
"36 percent of Republicans say that the country ought to prioritize reducing the effects of climate change compared with 87 percent of Democrats." This summarizes Bouie's point succinctly Anyone that doesn't recognize global warming as a global emergency may not be certifiably insane but they are certainly certifiably incompetent leaders. That such a large segment of our population is incapable of or unwilling to exercise simple critical thinking is as terrifying in itself as the consequences of the leadership they elect. Any voter who disregards scientific consensus on important issues is not someone we should be struggling to find consensus with, our struggle should be to get like thinking (as in, rational) people to the polls and hope there are more of us than them. Too bad our constitution is tilted in a way that gives the crazies a huge tactical advantage at the moment- they tend to reside in less populated, more rural states and are disproportionately represented in the senate. Bouie is right- supporting the filibuster is literally suicide.
Peter Chatzky (Briarcliff Manor, NY)
Simply put, the current rules of filibuster destroy the tenet of democracy that the majority rules while minority rights are protected. The scale has been tilted; the minority rules.
George Price (Morrisville Pa)
The filibuster is undemocratic - we live in a corrupt kleptocracy - maybe we will learn to overcome this before it destroys us. It seems that it will take a miracle.
Gary Pippenger (St Charles, MO)
Well sure it works! It keeps the USA the peculiar, backwards country that it is, despite roaring success in some aspects of statecraft. This is just fine, according to Conservatives who are most interested in "conserving:" The right to be selfish and stupid. The level of racism we still see in our society and institutions. The gross wealth gap between the haves and have-nots. The absurd interpretations (actually, deliberate distortions of) the Second Amendment and the resulting slaughter of innocent adults and children, along with the slaughter of combatants in poorer neighborhoods and cities. And most of all, it "conserves" the original constitutional biases of the 18th Century that favored: White, landed, educated (usually), MEN. Any progress made by women, people of color, people with disabilities, people from whom their land was stolen and treaty promises not kept, people who were excluded from civil rights as citizens--any progress they made was by demanding amendments to the Constitution, a very imperfect document that several major founding fathers doubted would last until 1825. But for those who want to keep our culture "white, Christian and parochial," it is better to avoid more amendments. Certainly a Constitutional Convention must be avoided at all costs (because we would have armed conflict over it.) In the mean time, we are strangled from acting productively to address our climate, healthcare, racial and economic crises. The veil has been lifted on the USA.
Dave (Shandaken)
Voter suppression in red states enables this fatal flaw in our government policy to kill the will of the people. If all citizens were equally allowed to vote the Republican rule would disintegrate. Along with "disintegration", billionaires gutting our economy, racism and fossil fueled climate disaster. Stop the fraudulent "voter fraud" big lie before America is destroyed.
Martian_Perspective (Somewhere, USA)
Mr. Bouie - Do you ever like anything that anyone has done ever? Have you ever run or administered something in a group with diverse opinions and priorities? Or it seems you are a cynic that knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. Of course, there are problems galore, but one cannot solve all of them in one go. How do you eat an elephant - one bite at a time.
Paul (Brooklyn)
Once again I am telling you Mr. Bouie, don't ask for what you want you may get it. If the democrats abolish the filibuster, they will pass every liberal program known to man, some in tune with Americans but many more not. It will be in effect for exactly one yr, you will hand over the House and Senate to the republicans in 2 yrs and the WH in four yrs. and they will undue anything passed and enact more regressive legislation. What don't you understand about that? Learn from history or forever be condemned to repeat its worst mistakes or as Warren Buffet said what we learn from history is that we do not learn from history.
Sam Torum (Yucca Valley)
Of course Mr. Bouie is right. Time is running out to fix this and the real problem of rule by a minority determined to hang on to power at all costs.
Ted (Chicago)
The big lie is that the filibuster produces better bills. The big truth is that it has almost exclusively been used to stop popular legislation that conservatives fear will lose them part or all of their unfair advantage. History has spoken; if you support the filibuster then you are helping them subvert the Constitution. Shame on Sinema and Manchin.
James (NYC)
So tired of reading Times columnists who think democracy implies the tyranny of their razor-thin majority. How can any serious thinker (which this author is) put themselves in such a position? The true legacy of the nightmare Trump years is the myopic and hysterical turn of the left. The merits and consitutional status of the fillibuster is completely beside the point. No-one who believes the US should remain a union would advocate for the partisanship on both sides that would ensue from it's removal. Still waiting for the brave politician who, finding a wide base of quiet support, is able to describe columns like these as well as almost all of Fox News for the sedition they truly represent.
Incorporeal Being (here)
Millions of Americans took time out of their very busy lives to resist the autocratic administration of the Former Guy in a great number of ways: voting; helping others register and vote; calling and writing legislators; attending meetings and town halls; door knocking, calling, texting and writing postcards to voters and potential voters; going to state capitols and DC for citizen lobbying; attending demonstrations large and small; donating; etc. After all that exhausting work, we were rewarded with a Democrat in the White House, and Congress in Democratic hands. But hold the celebration! The Democrats’ entire agenda—including the protection of voting rights and electoral integrity in the face of anti-democracy bills in red states—is being stymied by members of our OWN party (Senators Manchin and Sinema)! What is the point? How can our elected leaders expect everyday Americans to continue their (exhausting) engagement in the democratic process when we are shot in the foot by one of our own?! I’d like Senator Joe Manchin to consider that next time he’s yucking it up with his Republican friends over cocktails on his yacht.
Boswell (Connecticut)
Whichever party is in the minority at a certain time rails against it. Remember when Obama defended it? Why is it that when Republicans defend it, you liberals see it as partisan obstruction but never say that when Democrats defend it? Really, these binary perspectives are becoming so tiresome.
zandru (Burque)
Sure, the filibuster is an absurd, anti-democratic rule. So's the entire Senate. If the Senate can't be reconfigured to actually represent AMERICANS, and not states, it needs to go. ASAP.
RMS (Near Los Angeles)
This is a "tell me something I don't know" piece. But it leaves us where we are unless someone has some info with which they can successfully blackmail Manchin/Sinema.
LAars (NY)
Actually, it does. The Senate, you see, returned to old fashioned Pork Barrel Politics. Aka Bring Home the Beacon Cause, Jamie, the Senators are eying the 2022 election And most important is not what you believe but that you get reelected. Cause, if you are not, how could you implement your beliefs? And thus we are entering the Year of the Pig Brought Home That's all
Bruce (Boston)
The greatest gift we can give America for her 250th birthday is a Constitutional Convention, where we can address the glaring problems of congressional representation, Supreme Court term limits, and the Electoral College. And let's not wait another quarter milenium to give her another!! "Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed— Let it be that great strong land of love, Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme, That any man be crushed by one above."
Pitchforks: check Torches: check (Fl)
You think it is used to keep Democrats policies in check by the Republicans but in actuality it is being used by Manchin to do Biden's bidding keeping Democrat policies from being passed.
Bret (Massachusetts)
The biggest problem with the Senate is that it has come to resemble the late Soviet Politburo, with non-compos mentis elderly senators being propped up by party bosses, and perpetually kept in office via meaningless "elections" with disengaged voters and a press that's on auto-pilot. Filibuster reform isn't going to fix that.
Aspen (Dutchess County, NY)
I’m sorry but this is all much too complicated for Sinema or Manchin to understand.
William Case (United States)
The word “partisan” appears 21 times in Jamelle Bouie’s opinion piece. Like most Americans, the author has acquiesced to rule by political party. George Washington warned us against political parties. He said political parties “serve to organize faction, to give it an artificial and extraordinary force; to put, in the place of the delegated will of the nation the will of a party . . . The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism.” (1) We should take the names of presidential candidates off the November ballots and permit the Electoral College function as constitutionally designed. (2) We should repeal the 17th Amendment and let state legislatures once appoint U.S. senators who represent sates, not political parties. Americans would still directly elect U.S.representatives, but candidates would not need political party blacking to campaign effectively within a congressional district. (3) We should require that congressional voting district maps be drawn by computers programmed to ignore all factors except the numbers of a state’s residents and the number of congressional seats apportioned it. These measures would gradually put an end to political party tyranny.
Robert (Princeton, NJ)
We should end the filibuster - just as soon as the Senate flips back to a Republican majority. Of course we will then get the requisite opinions from the leftist talking heads that we must now preserve the filibuster.
Baixadog (Philadelphia)
Don't worry Mr. Bouie, next time there's a Republican president and 50 Republican Senators the filibuster is as good as gone.
genegnome (Port Townsend)
Forget the filibuster. Abolish the Senate.
RDV (Pennsylvania)
If America continues to unnecessarily labor under the filibuster, America and the planet will burn. Not every problem can be put off until after a performative catastrophe.
Media Skeptic (Nevada)
Will you support ending the filibuster when Republicans have majorities in both houses?
H (Boston)
@Media Skeptic yes
mbrody (Frostbite Falls, MN)
Funny how Dems love the filibuster when they are in minority. They are really trying for one party rule, but every scheme back fires eventually.
Horrified (U.S.)
Our government is so broken. Think about this - a twice-impeached president who lost the popular vote by 3 million, gets to appoint 3 Supreme Court members. Two senators control the entire Senate. One senator gets to determine what bills get voted on - just one senator! A man gets elected President who 3 million voters did not want because of the electoral college. This country is run by a flawed document that is 250 years old. The world has changed enormously since then. Yet we are stuck back in the 18th century. At least slavery was outlawed and women got the vote.
Chris (10013)
There are two things that the last 20+ years have proven: 1) America is governed by thin majorities that are bound to swing back and forth 2) The advent of the Fiat Presidency has resulted in dramatic swings in policy based on who is in office. The following parties have controlled both the Presidency and Congress in recent years Clinton (D) Bush (R) Obama (D) Trump (R) Biden (D) an almost all for just 2 years. If the filibuster is eliminated and a party chooses to go rogue (in this case far Left) with their legislative agenda, we can be 100% assured that the response from the next swing will be to not only turn over those laws but go further. When Trump took over the WH, he reversed every Obama policy that he could from the WH but was unable to pass many laws. For all of those Progressives like (Bouie) who so want to pass radical laws, imagine the next R in charge of all POTUS+Congress. 1) A national flat tax 2) A national ID card system required for voting 3) A full-cut in federal abortion money+no abortions past 60 days and criminal sanctions on docs 4) An elimination of background checks on guns 5) A federal law forbidding all racial and gender preferences in hiring, school admits in favor of a "meritocracy" 6) A new police protection act and so on and so on. There will be virtually no consequences for radicalization and worse the constant swings in our legal system. Removing the filibuster is tantamount to creating the Imperial Presidency.
Pitchforks: check Torches: check (Fl)
Manchin is doing Biden's bidding. Biden doesn't want to raise taxes on the rich or any of the things he ran on.
Chris M. (Vermont)
Isn't this an illustration that this two party system is basically a failure?
Rich (Nevada)
Your biggest example hit upon the most important issue for the next 40 years - climate change. We cannot, and must not falter at this time. Global warming has been way worse than predicted and we are rapidly passing the point of no return. Non-partisan politics will NOT fix it! Kill the filibuster! Save our children’s children!
TL (New Canaan)
Reckless politicians like Ted Cruz and Rand Paul have memorably used the filibuster for around the clock egomaniacal displays of their far right agendas. It has long since failed to serve a higher purpose and Americans have been brainwashed by displays as we saw in "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington." The corruption with politicians is endemic; remedies would be to give teeth to ethics enforcement in the Senate and Congress against violators of the many laws that come through lobbyists and wealthy contributors.
Fred P (Vail CO)
The filibuster works great! It does exactly whats its devotees want: it impedes progress.
SixplusFour (Dallas)
Except for Constitutional amendments, the Founders discussed and forthrightly rejected supermajority voting as an anathema to democracy. "“Poison.” That’s what Alexander Hamilton called requiring a supermajority to pass laws. It goes against the “fundamental principle of free government,” against the common good, James Madison concurred." (Madison is the primary author of the Constitution.) The filibuster was created by the minority South to bolster institutional racism and apartheid against the wishes of the majority.
B. Rothman (NYC)
@SixplusFour Which is why Manchin (doing the will of his W. Virginia voters (95%+ of whom are white) ) BSes the nation about the “principle of the filibuster” and Sinema simply repudiates her own opinion of several years ago. No one is fooled. Neither of these people are honorable because both will vote against one person, one vote and equal, easy access to the ballot. Underneath all the baloney is a solid core of racism. These two votes doom achieving the American ideal and American “democracy” because, at this point, having gotten what they wanted for their states in infrastructure, they are now able to stick it to all the poor, all the disabled, all the minority voters in their own state and all other states. By making common cause with Republicans, most of whom couldn’t care less about democracy but do care a lot about being able to tell everyone in the majority how they can vote and how to live and how to think, they are home free. Their own voters will send them back in 2022 or whenever, but the nation is going down the sewer along with the planet. My apologies to my children and grandchildren for not being able to save them.
SPBronson (Florida)
@SixplusFour “ The filibuster was created by the minority South to bolster institutional racism and apartheid against the wishes of the majority.” A popular trope in this little subculture but contradicted by the historical record. While the first few decades of the Senate record are no so clear on the deliberate use of filibusters to kill bills, it apparently happened. Some of the earliest known filibusters were by generally anti-slavery Whigs. As far as the creation of the filibuster, it was not created by anyone in the United States as it has already been in use in the ancient Roman Senate on which the US senate was somewhat modeled.
SixplusFour (Dallas)
@SPBronson I am talking about the "modern" filibuster. The filibuster was rarely used prior to the Civil War. There is nothing in the Constitution that suggests laws should be passed by other than majority vote.
Ryan (SLC, UT)
Once again you say it, and once again you're wrong. Partisan bills should fail. The left hasn't convinced enough people that climate change is that big a problem. The reality is, while climate change is definitely happening, the predictions of total catastrophe are wildly overblown. We just need to adapt to the changes as they arrive, one at a time. We don't need drastic action that will destroy our economy and people's lives.
jaygee (philly)
@Ryan Forgetting the debate about climate change for the moment, let me ask: What constitutes "enough people" so hat legislation is needed -- on any issue? Is it 55%? 60%? 80%? Where's your line? Or does is just depend on the issue itself? That if you're opposed to it, the "enough" number is higher?
magicisnotreal (earth)
@Ryan BTW the majority is convinced the problem is rural states with Senators beholden to big money. The whole world is on fire, Greenland and the Antarctic is melting, The Gulf Stream current is in danger of stopping because of all that cold fresh water, the desert southwest is flooding, the ocean has warmed killing a lot of cold water sea creatures, a second triple digit heat wave is overwhelming the PNW starting today But it's wildly overblown?! What exactly do you need for proof?
Billfer (Lafayette LA)
@Ryan When the energy industry’s own research data as far back as the 1970’s clearly shows adverse climatic effects are due to increases in CO2 from burning fossil fuels, yes, it is a real issue. When wildfire smoke is visibly polluting the atmosphere of the entire country, no, it’s not an overblown concern. When the majority of the country (64% by current data) support aggressive action on climate change, no, it is not a partisan issue. When the Senate and House refuse to even consider meaningful legislation and actively obstruct agency regulations, that’s a partisan issue.
Ami (California)
Large majorities suggest a mandate for significant change. Tiny majorities suggest only a mandate for modest change.
jaygee (philly)
@Ami So, then, when will the "modest change" happen?
Don Stacy (Spokane, Washington)
"it is simply not the case that the Senate categorically precludes partisan action." The contrapositive of this statement would read (more or less): It is the case that the Senate can and often does include partisan action.
Sid (NY)
Perhaps the best way to make the filibuster an anachronism is to impose term limits on Senators. In that way, they might be more inclined to focus on doing the people's business rather than their own..........which for a Senator is seeking reelection.
magicisnotreal (earth)
@Sid Take away the benefits they have given themselves for after they leave office and make them have to obey the same laws we do. They don't you know.
Marvin (California)
@Sid There are term limits, 6 years. Voters have the final say, why take a choice out of their hands if they like how someone is representing them. Term limits actually embolden politicians to NOT listen to those that elected them as their is no repercussion for passing bills those that elected you do not support.
John Bergstrom (Boston)
@Sid But if they can't get re-elected anyway, why on earth would they focus on doing the people's business? Which, obviously, is very closely related to getting re-elected, as long as that is a possibility. You want to give people an answer to the age old question "What has the senator done for us lately?" But as soon as the possibility of re-election is off the board, you have no reason to think about the voters anymore; you are looking at your next employers. A corporation? A well-funded think-tank or foundation? A university? Whoever it is going to be, you now have a personal interest in their agenda. Of course, you were interested in their agenda before, but while you were running for office, their assistance had to go through the election process: appealing to the voters. Once the voters are no longer involved, the connection is much more direct.
DGP (So Cal)
If we want to talk fair Senate voting that is representative of the will of voters and not the will of extreme Right, let's keep in mind that the Senate is strongly skewed towards the Right. WY and SD both have populations of less than a million and each get 2 senators. CA (40M) and NY(19M) also get 2 votes. Allocate senators in proportion to population and then filibuster as much as you want. In that skewed environment, let us also remember that the filibuster is not openly admitted to be primarily a means of obstruction of Democratic policies -- representative of the majority of the population of the US. It is supposed to be a means of allowing extended debate on a bill. It is not that. It is only obstructive. The House doesn't require a filibuster to debate bills. Historically, the filibuster was maintained by a single senator reading names out of a telephone book in order to hold the floor. Now it requires nothing at all. Change the rules! If there is to be a debate, every single member of the minority should be on the floor participating in that debate. Bathroom breaks every 2 hours, maximum sleep breaks of 8 hours, i.e., active debate of 12 hours a day. If minority member leaves the floor the Majority Leader can call the filibuster ended and hold a vote requiring a majority vote of only 51. (Details negotiable) Joe Manchin wants bipartisan; put up or shut up. Debate like you claim to want. The filibuster is obstructive power to the minority, not bipartisan.
Marvin (California)
@DGP The Senate is NOT skewed toward the right, it is a pretty solid mix of left, right and both Dem and GOP centrists. Yes, change the rules, remove the filibuster but require a Senate vote of 58 to pass any bill.
John Bergstrom (Boston)
@DGP This makes a lot of sense. Real debate is a wonderful thing, and anything that could be done to encourage it should be welcomed. The filibuster doesn't even make a pretense in its present form, it's a way of ruling out debate. Permit generous debate time, but require actual speech, and real people present. And even then, probably a week or two is plenty...
DGP (So Cal)
@Marvin No Marvin. If the national vote were leveled on the basis of numbers of Democratic vs. Republican voters there would be a large majority of Democrats. The skew is what produces the "balance" that you refer to. Moreover, you cannot argue that Republicans deserve the balance because of some historical moral obligation. They need to earn it by providing policies that attract voters not by cheating with obscure rules associated with slavery and by gerrymandering. If Republicans deserve equality in the Senate then so should the Libertarian and Green Parties. They don't because they can't attract enough voters. Same should be true of Republicans.
Dennis Holland (Piermont N)
The very real possibiliy that, if they are able to herd all their cats, Democrats will be able to pass the most expansive, broad ranging social services legislation in American history through a Reconciliation Bill mitigates the concern over the filibuster, particularly at this deeply divided point in our democratic experiment.
magicisnotreal (earth)
I hope you never tire of this work Mr Bouie. Even back in the 60's and 70's when openly racist people were elected and served in both the House and Senate they adhered in most cases to a form of discourse in which they used and applied reason to the positions they publicly took. Even when they actually wanted something else they were loath to let the public see them take such a position because it would show them to be selfish and petty. but mostly it would show they did not believe in the design of our system as taught in schools until the 60's. That Civics Lesson taught us that the design required the use of reason to work and that Congress regardless of what party is meant to cooperate with one another to come to the best compromises. It helped that in society in general it was part of our culture at the time to compromise for the best interests of all. In the reagan admin the republicans began without explanation simply opposing the DEMs not on the merits of any case, but just because they were DEMs. Even on things they in fact actually supported. It became about beating "them" as if they were an enemy. This is the antithesis of what our system is meant to be. At the same time they put out a lot of casual propaganda as they spoke to reporter's in their daily lives by mention of "being the opposition" as if we were a parliamentary system where they just oppose each other because they are on different teams.
CKathes (Seattle)
The filibuster will surely be history If ever again (God forbid) there's a Republican president and Republican majority in both chambers. The urgency felt by the nativist right to preserve as much white hegemony as possible in the face of looming demographic oblivion will easily overcome any lingering hesitation on the part of the dwindling Republican old guard. (Does anyone seriously believe Mitch McConnell would refuse on principle if confronted by a majority of his caucus demanding a vote, assuming he's even still in the Senate when it happens?) In light of that fact, Democrats should go ahead and get rid of it now.
Marvin (California)
@CKathes The GOP could have done that under Trump when they had Senate (and House) majority and did not even consider it so not sure where you are coming from. Now, if the Dems nuke it, you can be sure the GOP will use it when they get the Senate back. Don't see it happening though, Sinema, Manchin and others don't want to do that and just showed how you can get a decent, centrist bill through without having to do it.
CKathes (Seattle)
@Marvin I think McConnell didn't try to nuke the filibuster in 2017-18 because (1) he probably didn't quite have the votes; and (2) he feared what Trump (whose political instincts are unpredictable) might pressure him to do with the resulting power. I don't think he would have the same qualms about a President DeSantis.
Frish (Los Angeles)
because it protects rich people. we need to tax wealth, not income.
Jim K (San Jose)
The filibuster is just another bad feature of the Senate, which is the main component of our government which does not work. The Senate was deliberately added by the framers of the constitution to act as a brake on populist agendas. Over time, it has become not much more than a brake on anything that might benefit the average American, particularly when actively gamed by corporate owned actors like Mitch McConnell. The Senate itself, and the electoral college, are what need to go if we are to have a functioning representative democracy.
al (Portland)
@Jim K Well, the same people who "deliberately added" the senate to the constitution also made it nearly impossible to change that constitution. So we are stuck with the senate.
Marvin (California)
@Jim K It was deliberate to allow equal representation of states, we are a federal of states as well as a country. States with a great deal of autonomy, as set forth by the often disregarded 10th amendment.
Marvin (California)
@al Seems fine to me, it SHOULD be hard to amend the Constitution. You SHOULD need 2/3 votes from the states, a high bar. That ensures that any change has huge support, not just bare majority support, across the country.
bl (rochester)
The filibuster procedure, as currently defined, works fine to obstruct policy that a geographically large part of the country objects to in the strongest and most visceral possible terms. This is why it serves this part of the country not to change anything at all. Nothing will change until one of two possibilities occurs. Either senate democrat candidates suddenly develop a real ability to compete effectively in far more red states than has been the case over the last two decades, or there is a redefinition of the filibuster procedure to require a genuine talking one with a smaller majority vote needed to end it. It is hardly evident that either will occur anytime soon. These are the two basic obstacles that keep any change from occurring. It is absurd, self defeating, and frustrating to a majority of the population, but it suits the needs of a minority of the population. In the meantime life tries to go on. The pandemic spreads, the atmosphere warms, the ability of the ocean to support both marine life and stability of large scale water currents degrades, the climate worsens, and the society seems stuck in a permanent, paralyzing, and suicidal partisan war that prevents reality and enlightened self interest from intervening in policy to address these existential crises. "Fixing" the filibuster might help, but the real cause of our unwillingness to act wisely and quickly is too large and structural. Too many fear too much change too quickly.
Marvin (California)
@bl Once you hit the details, there are very few things that a pure majority of the country supports that are not getting done. Yes, you can find broad support for concepts, but as soon as you start into the details you quickly drop from a majority. We all support lower drug prices, but as soon as you put an idea on paper of HOW to do that you probably drop under majority right there. As such, you need these bigger compromise bills like this infrastructure bill where all sides (there are not just two) are happy with it. Give and take.
bl (rochester)
@Marvin Happy is to be contrasted with "satisfied"...most are satisfied, enough to vote for approval. The climate issue is a little different since it is goes far deeper, has been distorted and effectively manipulated by well funded denialists since day 1, which has led to a large enough minority fear doing much, if anything structurally significant, through government policy (in contrast to market driven policy, which is weakened by the usual sorts of vested interests). The consequences of this are that you cannot hope to get the broad agreement at a fairly detailed level that is really needed to drive policy formation and implementation at the rate that is needed. Moreover, such inertia is not confined to this society alone. Comparable resistance is found all over our increasingly threatened planet.
ThisWorldIsUpsideDown (US)
Third paragraph from the end of this piece is the salient point of the dysfunctional filibuster: Congress, as a whole, does not legislate for the betterment of its total constituency, which adds up to a nation. It legislates to the betterment of its donor constituency. This infrastructure package supports the donor constituency so it receives [r]epublican support.
JBC (Indianapolis)
"But the people’s business — or the business of the United States, if you prefer — includes issues that fall along that divide. To require bipartisan consensus is to rule those issues outside the scope of congressional power." This is the talking point for every Democrat.
rawebb1 (Little Rock, AR)
I saw a comment below talking about the incompetence of Democrats. Let me say Amen! The problem with this essay is that it ignores the facts on the ground. Since the days of Newt Gingrich's term as Speaker, the Republican Party has been in obstruction mode. Tax cuts for the rich are their only legislative accomplishments. They appear to be going along with the current infrastructure bill, but anything else will require reconciliation or an end to the filibuster. Unless Congress passes voting protection, Republicans will lock in their minority control of the government with the next election. Threats to our democracy are too real to allow an irrational commitment to the filibuster to block protective steps.
LongTimeFirstTime (New York City)
Saying we should replace the filibuster because it favors smaller states is like saying we should replace the basement of the house. This is the house you have. Live in it or tear it down.
Jason (Charlotte)
Are you saying the filibuster is part of the foundation upon which this nation is built? If so, how do you figure?
Marvin (California)
@LongTimeFirstTime Yeah, that is a pretty good point. The Senate is set up to represent states, not populations. We are a federation of states. No state, dark blue, purple or bright red wants to give up their representation. Look a the states that signed the compact to dedicate all their electoral votes to the popular vote winner. They could do that now, but they won't. They are afraid to lose their autonomy. But yeah, removing state representation kinda changes the whole bedrock of the bi-cameral system that is set up.
John Bergstrom (Boston)
@LongTimeFirstTime The filibuster isn't specified in the constitution, and even if it were, a lot of major changes have been made in the original design. Remember when Senators weren't elected by popular vote? That was a while ago. The undemocratic Senate was part of the original design, yes, and we have lived with it a long time, but there is no reason to see it as the "basement". Or, if we want to see it that way, there is no reason to think the basement can't be opened up and made liveable.
Billyboy (Virginia)
“ The case against filibuster reform is that the 60-vote requirement to end debate ensures consensus on any given piece of legislation.” Um, no what it ensures is that the majority (in other words, “a consensus”) of elected representatives no longer can overcome the recalcitrance of a minority -as, for instance, in allowing the President’s appointments to the Supreme Court and lower courts even to receive a hearing before the Senate. Sound familiar? Needless to say, there are many, many more examples. It used to be an axiom that the majority rules except where there is a specific higher requirement for passage. Not so much anymore, though. It’s enough that small states have outsized power in the Senate and Electoral College; the filibuster rule exacerbates the effect and is obviously anti-Democratic.
Marvin (California)
@Billyboy Small states have EQUAL power in the Senate. The senate represents states, not population. The electoral college is a combination essentially giving every state two "state" votes followed by a proportional "population" vote. Nothing outsized or unequal about it once you understand the CONCEPT.
Ulyssesnoman (Portland, Maine)
I actually like that I’m being told that I lack mental capacity. Not masochistic, just aware that my relationship with what I don’t know is larger and more important than my relationship with what I do know. Far too many others do not live the same way.
Scott Kolber (Brooklyn)
The solution to severely disproportionate under-representation in the Senate is to have national direct elections for some number of senators at large, in addition to the current state-based system. More people live in my one county than in more than a dozen states. We’re not represented fairly in the Senate.
Andrew Arato (New York)
Unfortunately this is not a well thought out argument. It leaves out possible cases where there is no consensus in the country, and where a purely majoritarian decision could impose irreversible measures and outcomes on the rest of us. What we need is not the open door to pure mjarity rule, but a hierarchy of decison making issues with different procedural rules attached to each. E.g. it is right that budgetary decisions are taken by the majority, but it is also right that quasi constitutional changes like altering court jurisdiction requiquire a supermajority. There are also issues and topics in between.
Judy Bloom (Illinois)
How can a $1.2 trillion dollar act only require $550 billion in new spending?
karen beck (Danville, ca)
If Dems dont break the filibuster and address voting rights, climate change, supreme court appointments, the country and the world are doomed.
Sisko24 (metro New York)
@karen beck Uh, the Democrats and the Republicans are responsible. While I vacillate between favoring abolition of the filibuster and 'talking' reform option, I resent that too many people are willing to let the GOP off the hook for addressing (or not) climate change and other such issues. Their lives are also at stake and they must be pressured (harangued?) to get their act together and come up with ideas. I keep coming to the same conclusion, however, that until the filibuster is in true jeopardy of being altered or abolished by the Democrats, the GOP and their donors will do nothing.
Tom Nimen (Bronx, New York)
Why does everyone portray the filibuster as some sort of legislative throttle to stop wayward legislation? Let's just call it what it is: a legitimized political tantrum for politicians too lazy to perform the work of negotiation.
Judy Bloom (Illinois)
@Tom Nimen It is also rule by minority which is not by definition, democracy.
Dustin Arand (St. Louis)
Even according to the filibuster’s supporters’ own logic, it’s a failure. The idea is that it’s supposed to foster compromise, right? But why stick your neck out to support a bill that obviously won’t be popular with primary voters (who tend to be hold more extreme views) when it has very little chance of passing? Being the sixtieth Senator to support a piece of legislation may give you a win to take to general election voters, but being the fifty-ninth exposes you to too many attack ads to be worth it.
Keith (Merced)
What we have instead is a system that cedes democracy to the minority party, a system that should appall every American as it did James Madison and Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln wrote in his first inaugural address, March 1861, “A majority held in restraint by constitutional checks and limitations, and always changing easily with deliberate changes of popular opinions and sentiments, is the only true sovereign of a free people. Whoever rejects it does of necessity fly to anarchy or to despotism. Unanimity is impossible. The rule of a minority, as a permanent arrangement, is wholly inadmissible; so that, rejecting the majority principle, anarchy or despotism in some form is all that is left.” Madison was even more succinct writing in Federalist 58, "It has been said that more than a majority ought to have been required for a quorum; and in particular cases, if not in all, more than a majority of a quorum for a decision... In all cases where justice or the general good might require new laws to be passed, or active measures to be pursued, the fundamental principle of free government would be reversed. It would be no longer the majority that would rule: the power would be transferred to the minority...an interested minority might take advantage of it to screen themselves from equitable sacrifices to the general weal, or, in particular emergencies, to extort unreasonable indulgences." Sound familiar?
Daedalus (Rochester NY)
Two problems here: first of all, the power of 51 over 49 can be bad for the Democrats, too, if they happen to be the 49. No doubt we'd be hearing about a different kind of unfairness if that were the case. Secondly, and this is the real issue, the Democrats are simply not competent. They have retreated from the state legislatures to the Congress, from the Congress to the Supreme Court, then to the White House, and now they stand almost bereft of any real power, thanks largely to their own inner divisions and laziness. Nothing will improve until they learn to campaign in state elections and fix the problems therein, many of which are of their own making.
Seems like the filibuster is good for me but not for thee. When Obama was in the Senate he voted numerous times to filibuster bills. He defended the filibuster at that time, as Republicans considered abolishing it, as a vital part of the legislative process. There is a positive to the filibuster, it can help us prevent wild swings in legislative direction from one election cycle to the next. The sort that we have seen over the last few years with executive orders.
Andy Makar (Mason County WA)
@JG I think that is exactly what the Founders intended. The majority, if they overturned popular legislation, would have to defend that unpopular position. There would be no hiding behind the invisible filibuster. If you are going to have a filibuster, at least make the minority put in the works of keeping it going. At minimum, the current lazy filibuster must go.
Larry Imboden (Union)
@JG I am all for the filibuster - but only if it is used the way it is supposed to be used. Republicans want to filibuster a bill? No problem! Stand at the podium and speak! Speak until you have had your say, and then the bill can be brought to the floor for a vote. Anything else is flat out, raw abuse of the filibuster. And it needs to stop.
HarveyB (Westchester, NY)
At least make them go back to having to stand there and talk without food and bathroom breaks. After they have done that a few times, they won't want to filibuster quite so often.
BBunsen (Pacific Northwest)
If the filibuster is such a necessity for legislative comity, I’m positive that the Founders would have written supermajority requirements into the US Constitution.
David (Pacific Northwest)
The senate also has a large number of senators whose votes are, essentially, bought by rich donors and business PACs which drive the inertia to avoid changes which, although benefiting the majority of Americans, work to the financial detriment of those super-rich donors. Hence, the filibuster if the perfect tool to maintain a small number of industrialists and family moneyed over privileged folks with inherited wealth - less than 1% of Americans - in power and control of the nations policies and funds. Similarly, the SCOTUS appears to have been similarly influence, since Citizens United declared bribery of politicians simply not a thing. Removing the filibuster removes the absolute power of those very few and hands some measure of power and control back to the people. Time to do it is now. Or the power of the people will be gone forever.
kwb (Cumming, GA)
Most of the pundits at the NYT seem to think that a 51% electoral victory should give Democrats carte blanche to enact any measure they like. held back only by the "tyranny" of the 49%. The infrastructure bill is still bloated, a fact that has caused it to take a long time for passage. Democrats could learn to craft lean independent spending bills and get quick passage in the Senate by wide margins. But that's too hard a lift for them.
PaulM (Massachusetts)
@kwb "Democrats could learn to craft lean independent spending bills" but why should Democrats do what the Republican moneyed interests want instead of what their constituents and many others want? Maybe Republicans could learn to craft tax policies that favor the workers over the already-too-rich wealthy?
HarveyB (Westchester, NY)
@kwb The minority (Republicans) already control the Senate with considerable less than 51% of the votes. CA and MT both get exactly 2 Senators. Isn't that enough protection for the minority? 'Democrats could learn to craft lean independent spending bills'? Republicans could learn not to be so greedy and raise the money from taxes to pay for infrastructure. It would only take a small percentage of the decrease that went to the rich. They could actually craft the bill so that Trump had to actually pay some tax.
Billyboy (Virginia)
@kwb What an odd viewpoint. The fact of the matter is that it used to be not so long ago that Congressional representatives crossed party lines to vote on a bill sponsored by the other party. And the view that the infrastructure bill is still bloated is clearly a right-wing characterization; the bill has been pared down considerably. It’s called “compromise.”
Greg (Mpls)
" Yes, over the last six years large bipartisan majorities have passed laws on issues of low partisan salience and low public attention." And therein lies the problem. Right now we seem to elect our Senators and Representatives based on their partisan rhetoric alone. End the filibuster. Enact legislation even if this requires the VP's tie breaking vote. Put the legislation into play in the real world and compel politicians to defend their policy positions based on how they voted in light on the legislation's effect. Give the voters the opportunity to judge for themselves whether or not enacted legislation is beneficial or detrimental to the common good.
Mor (California)
The reason why the filibuster is still in place is that the Democrats know that much of their agenda is broadly unpopular, and are afraid that having lost their majority in the House, the filibuster could be the only weapon they will have left. The article picks one issue on which most voters agree: climate change (though when it comes to particulars, I am not sure it’s true). But how much agreement is there in immigration? A solid majority of voters disapprove of Biden’s handling of the Southern border, as per several polls. Crime? Ditto. Running on defunding the police will cost Democrats several seats in the House. I am not even mentioning the fact that people vote on emotions, not on issues. Critical race theory is a millstone around Democrats’ necks because of its emotional punch. The filibuster should go - it is a weird institution. But if Democrats think this will make it easier for them to hold onto the House and presidency, I doubt it very much.
Maude (Toronto, Canada)
This is so comically backward. It’s Republicans who use the filibuster to deny any Democratic “victory” in getting things done (McConnell openly said that his mission was not to pass one piece of Democratic-proposed legislation), Republicans who can win elections because of the distortion of the Electoral College, Republicans who are enacting voter repression - all to hold on to power they can’t win with actual votes.
Billyboy (Virginia)
@Mor “The article picks one issue on which most voters agree: climate change.” And which party is using the filibuster (not to mention the courts) to prevent sufficient legislation being enacted to address climate change in a broad and effective manner? And mentioning critical race theory is really, really odd in light of the fact that Trump and his coterie of rascals were elected primarily because of their sotto voce racist campaigns.
Mor (California)
@Maude how is your recital of left-wing clichés relevant to anything in my post? Recent polls by 538 show that even Biden's approval ratings are slipping, especially on immigration and economy (though still strong on COVID). Every poll in existence shows that the progressives' views on crime, immigration, and education are very unpopular, especially among the Independents who are crucial to winning any kind of functioning majority. The Electoral College is irrelevant to state and local elections, and these have not been going well for progressives who drag the entire Democratic party with them. If the US had a multi-party democracy, the Democrats would have split into two distinct parties long time ago. But as it is, Republicans have a fighting chance - not because their own agenda is popular but because the alternative is seen as worse.
Michael Greason (Toronto)
It seems to me that the "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" version of the filibuster plays a role in representing minority interests when they are being overruled by a majority. This type of protest requires enormous effort and is limited by the ability of the speaker to endure. Even if a number of Senators representing minority opinion wish to participate, eventually they will all "wear out". As is the case now, a supermajority can also impose cloture and move on with passing the bill at hand. However, the simple, painless, indefinite ability to impose a filibuster simply by declaring one makes no sense at all. Despite all the tortured attempts to justify its existence, in the end the practice is nothing more or less than a veto for the minority. There is no rational reason to allow such overwhelming power to be given to a minority.
R (CA)
The current filibuster rule a tool used by the Senate minority to obstruct the will of the Senate majority. When the filibuster is used, it’s used by members of the Senate minority who are not actually debating members of the Senate majority regarding merits of proposed legislation or qualifications of a person nominated for appointment to public office. The narratives used by politicians to defend the filibuster rule to the public are nonsense. If the filibuster rule was not available to members of the Senate minority to obstruct the will of the Senate majority, then members of the Senate minority would actually have incentive to engage in debate with members of the Senate majority to try to influence the will of the Senate majority.
Walter Ingram (Western MD)
As far as I know, the Hastert rule would still apply in the House. If McConnell doesn't want anything done, that's what happens. The filibuster may not have played in this instance, but, stand by.
A P (Eastchester)
The Senate as an institution was created in large part to satisfy the demands of the small states. Approximately 21% of the country's population as represented by the states with the smallest populations control the Senate. The will of the minority often supersedes the will of the majority. We consistently repeat a narrative to ourselves that the way our legislative process works purposely slows down the legislative process to provide more introspection and deliberative thought. What we really have is a system that legislates if it benefits special interests. In the case of Republicans that means the rich and corporations. With Democrats its always more socialized spending. The middle class mostly gets left out of the mix. You can see it everywhere. Lower numbers of good union paying jobs. Increases in part time 1099 jobs without benefits. Families that must depend on two incomes to have a middle class lifestyle. More people working in the gig economy which means working more hours and no benefits.
tsqlguy (vermont)
@A P everybody belongs to a special interest - special interests are good not bad I belong to the pot smoking, net flix watching, skiing special interest group we are terribly unrepresented in the halls of power stoners unite and overthrow the yoke of repression and tyranny
Arthur Larkin (Chappaqua, NY)
Senators like the filibuster because it protects them from taking positions on controversial issues that never come up for a vote, for the reasons cited in this article. It protects them from having to “own” legislation and face the voters once it passes. The filibuster, in other words, prevents democracy from functioning but enables Senators to cling to their perks, to hang on to their cushy jobs at taxpayer expense. A microcosm of why the United States is failing miserably on multiple fronts.
Taylor (USA)
@Arthur Larkin Schumer and his Democratic Senatorial colleagues loved the filibuster in 2017 and 2018 when Trump and his zealot House colleagues were calling for the elimination of the filibuster. Schumer and others argued in terms of "saving the Republic". They made all kinds of historical precedent arguments. I agreed with them know as I agree with those who oppose eliminating the filibuster now. It would be great for a Progressive to offer some logic as to switching positions other than the obvious one of gaining a short -term political advantage. It is illogical and absurd to switch sides but Schumer and crew have obviously done so. Fortunately, for all of us, Manchin and Sinema are not caving in.
tim (minnesota)
Yes. As with all things government, too often the primary goal is to cover ones rear end. The filibuster enables senators from both parties to avoid making risky decisions. State governors hide behind this federal inaction as well. "We'd love to have universal healthcare coverage (gun control, climate action, etc.) but the feds won't let us!"
Chris (California)
@Taylor The logic of switching positions is that the government has become stagnant and unable to respond to rapid developments in climate change (impacts), income inequality, an increasingly (dangerously) misinformed public, crumbling infrastructure, and on and on. Changing positions after learning new information is a sign of thoughtful consideration and wisdom gained. Remaining loyal to every position you've ever had on every issue is asinine stubbornness.
ChristineMcM (Massachusetts)
"Immigration, voting rights and democracy protection are, like climate change, areas of major concern to tens of millions of Americans. " You missed gun safety laws, and taxation, Jamelle Bouie, but I get your point. Only the most inarguably benign issue like infrastructure can get through with bipartisanship, and even that was a long, arduous route. In a nutshell, what the people want doesn't matter. It's obscene that a minority can hold up the most important policies--voting rights and protection of vote counts being number one--because a few senators insist on bipartisanship to preserve democracy. Democracy can't survive when two parties aren't living in the same reality or have radically different ideas about our system of government.
Reader (New York)
@ChristineMcM , "What the people (i.e. the national majority) want doesn't matter". But maybe that's the point. If your concern is the protection of wealth and minimally regulated market capitalism in an increasingly unequal society, or the preservation of racial and cultural identity and hierarchies in an increasingly diverse country (and these are much of the Republican core donors and base voters), you're apt to see majority rule as a near existential threat to your interests, regardless of democratic principles.
Dan F (Portland, OR)
@ChristineMcM The Republican party's only lever to motivate their base is culture wars, that inevitably turn every issue into a partisan issue. There's no incentive for them to solve problems when Republican voters don't really care as long as their representatives are creating "liberal tears".
Cindy (VT)
....or radically different ideas about FACTS and SCIENCE and TRUTH.
MikeH (Upstate NY)
I've said it before, and I'll say it again, where in the Constitution is the filibuster prescribed, or even mentioned? It is an unconstitutional abuse of the power of the minority over the majority, and never should have been instituted in the first place.
Gary (Connecticut)
Defenders of the filibuster often say it prevents "the tyranny of the majority." This strange argument deserves unpacking. In every organization I have ever been part of, after discussion majority vote decides the question. That's because in a democracy, the majority rules. That's an irreducible requirement of a democracy. Our system has in place multiple mechanisms to correct errors of the majority. Both houses of Congress must agree. The president can veto a measure; an override requires a super-majority. Lawsuits can be filed; stays issued; laws foud unconstitutional. Don't all these checks suffice? Why do we need an anti-democratic filibuster in the Senate to prevent the majority from acting?
Gary S (New Hampshire)
@Gary I would add another thing to your statement, "...in a democracy, majority rules." If that were the case, there truly could be a tyranny of the majority. Benjamin Barber calls this "weak democracy." Instead, in STRONG democracy, the majority acts on what is best for ALL who are affected by the decision, including input from the minority and consideration of others who might not be represented by the decision makers (children, undocumented folks, the environment) regarding the effects of the decision on their well-being. Though it is a great stretch from where we are at the moment, it might be a goal towards which we aspire.
LoungeLizard (Vermont)
@Gary Perhaps because in the world as it is fools need to sometimes be humored lest they have one of their tantrums and wreck the whole place.
Martin (Chicago)
People supporting the filibuster routinely make the argument of "Be careful what you wish for". It is nonsense. But you know who really, really, really wants the filibuster? Your Senator, because they never have to vote. It is their meal ticket to re-election. The dirty little secret is that even in some of these "right" or "left" wing states, there are some issues that might get them voted of office - IF THEY HAD TO VOTE. Climate control Health care Sensible gun control Various civil rights bills Anti lynching bills Anti poll tax legislation etc. All at one point stopped by various filibusters. Good for the nation? I'll take my chances that when Senators vote for unpopular legislation, they will pay the price and be voted out of office. As per the Constitution. And some of those issues might even get a Senator voted out of office in what is considered a "safe" state. This could happen for either party. Make your Senator vote. Eliminate the filibuster.
Alan (Columbus OH)
The Senate itself is a form of supermajority requirement - the House and Senate must both pass something, which means a simple majority of seats won a single election day is not enough on its own. This is probably a good thing. Add in a presidential veto and vice president tie breaker, and there is a second independent element of a supermajority. On the other hand, we also have a split Senate dependent on a red state Democrat (or three, or seven) to form a blue majority. If there was no filibuster, odds are these Democrats would have to play "bad cop" much more often than they do now. Getting rid of the filibuster and there will either be only a modest change in what bills are passed or the Senate will turn red in the near future (which it may anyway). Whichever party wants the government to "do big things" will often need the filibuster to prevent policy reversals. Even the threat of future policy reversals can have serious consequences, limiting how much faith anyone has in any partisan new law. As another Opinion piece noted today, we functionally have a parliamentary system - two parties and a few independents jockeying for control - operating in a presidential system where the executive has ascended approximately unchecked. A strong executive makes operating a military empire easier or at least possible, but it makes a democracy much harder. As the USA tries to be both, there will necessarily be conflict and friction that doesn't exist anywhere else on the planet.
Eric (Seattle)
Jamelle makes the case for getting rid of the filibuster altogether, and I agree. I would add, or ask, what percentage of the US population do the Republican Senators represent? While it takes only 40% of the Senate to block legislation, that 40% goes even lower when you extrapolate it to the number of people they represent.
Ed (Western Washington)
With a few exceptions the legislators of the Republican Party are no longer interested in any issues but one, POWER. They seem even willing to throw away the democracy in the quest for power. For them the filibuster is no longer a tool to force compromise on issues but a political tool to be used against Democrat success. The Democrats have to trust that since they are now the only party that is actually interested in issues and that they now contain the political center, which the Republicans have ceded to them, as well as the left wing, the majority of the country will support their policy decisions, and continue to vote them into power. Lastly without dropping the filibuster the Democrats won't be able to stop the dismantling of the democratic institutions by Republican state legislators and maintain free and fair elections.
Frank James (South Dakota)
I'm from one of these small conservative states given extra power under this system. I don't think the nation should be looking to political leaders from my state for leadership.
David C. Murray (Costa Rica)
If the filibuster is not done away with altogether, then the process should be changed procedurally. First, any one senator could declare a filibuster but a minimum of (say) five fellow senators should be required to support it. Second, the originator and each supporting senator should be required to adhere to the prior practice of actually speaking against the legislation on the floor of the Senate for a minimum period of time like (say) twelve continuous hours. Third, any senator should be permitted to call for a vote of closure at the end of each senator's twelve (or more) hours' oration. Only those in physical attendance should be permitted to vote. The filibuster is a serious obstacle to progress and invoking it should only ever be taken seriously. In the current environment, it's far too easy for one senatorial nut case to block legislation from which some 330 million American citizens will derive a benefit. The pending infrastructure legislation is but one glaring example.
Robert Henry Eller (Portland, Oregon)
The argument presented here is way too wordy, and not very clear. Try this: The filibuster literally prevents majorities from ruling themselves, which is the essence of Constitutional democracy. Instead, the filibuster enables a minority of the population, and a minority of the government, to decided what the majority can and cannot do. Essentially, the filibuster enables a nimority authoritarian dictatorship. And in the present case, that minority authoritarian dictatorship believes the majority shouldn't be able to vote, that environmental destruction is a great choice, that people being free to injure and kill others with COVID is their right, and we must protect their freedom to injure and kill others. Did I miss anything?
Gary (Connecticut)
@Robert Henry Eller -- Only that the filibuster makes Mitch McConnell de facto majority leader.
Robert Henry Eller (Portland, Oregon)
@Gary in my stated attempt to render Jamelle's argument in a more concise version, I did omit some inferences. But yeah, you get the point. (Normally, Jamelle's arguments are more cogent. I was a bit surprised by this one.)
SPBronson (Florida)
@Robert Henry Eller Yes, you missed that there is no minority authoritarian dictatorship because the filibuster does not empower the minority to dictate anything, only to veto dictates by the majority. It is a veto power, not a dictatorial power, a negative power, not a positive power. It serves to prevent a majority authoritarian dictatorship.
Kent Kraus (Alabama)
Of course the filibuster doesn't work. That's the whole point of the filibuster. Despite the fact that it hinders more than helps, I'm glad it's there. I am very much afraid of the tyranny of the majority regardless of what party controls. In countries with a parliamentary government it's not such a problem, but our bicameral legislature and separation of powers creates a perfect environment for a majority to abuse their power.
sal (phila)
@Kent Kraus there's a difference between using the filibuster to deny Blacks civil rights, as the Democrats did in the 50's and 60's, and using it to ensure voting rights. Do you prefer the tyranny of this minority to the tyranny of this majority?
Chuck Psimer (Norfolk, VA)
The Senate is broken. The filibuster makes it a compound fracture.
tim (minnesota)
The only reason the republicans haven't gotten rid of the filibuster yet is that they only care about voting for tax cuts and, even if that were not the case, they can't get 50 votes of their own for any other issue. Republicans are elected to STOP government from working - this is the only reason they didn't jettison the filibuster years ago.
benningtonmpls (Minneapolis)
I would agree with Mr. Boulevard if he could assure me that the Party system of political endorsement was also disbanded. What is more partisan and corrupt than how political parties nominate their candidates? Let all voters use a runoff election to choose the two most viable candidates out of a open pool, then elect the strongest of those two candidates. Then we'd get a more nonpartisan "representative" democracy that wouldn't necessarily need to weaponize the fillibuster.
Alyson Lloyd (Philadelphia)
I think a lot of you are ignoring one thing. Most Americans citizens don't know what the filibuster actually is or means. For most Americans if the Congressperson in their political party supports it, it's good; if they don't, it's bad. We've gotten to the point where Americans listen to their Congressperson's POV before they've even read or learned the action of a bill.
JoeG (Houston)
Some of the issues brought up, universal background checks and infrastructure bill, are both on the must have lists of the Democrats. They are important pieces of legislation but should important legislation be left up to a simple majority. Take our more democratic neighbor England with Brexit. Brexit was decided by a very small majority. Many progressives said the vote should be ignored. England's membership in the EU was to important to be decided by a few uneducated right wingers. We Americans avoid saying these things out loud. Of course some things are never left to the democratic process. Like Depending, a simple majority is to simple. But unlike England we recognize it's short comings. For example we have the Senate and the electoral college. The filibuster is another asset that exists for both parties. It keeps the government and the people from going to far. Getting rid of the filibuster If you're trying to rig the vote is a smart idea until you need it.
Karen (Bay Area)
The English (British) example has nothing to do with our country. The brexit vote was a referendum— direct democracy. We don’t have that at the federal level, and it exists only in some states.
Al (Philly)
Everybody knows this. The new information we have is - now that the chips are down, we learn that some Democrats aren't really Democrats. Our only hope is to do what Stacey Abrams did in Georgia. The left + the center is a natural majority. We have the votes. Moderate voters really are disgusted by what the Republican party has become. Get involved in your local Democratic Committee. Advocate, donate, volunteer. Show up and vote straight Democratic in every election. Help organize to get Democratic leaning and persuadable voters registered and to the polls. The future of our Republic depends on you. Get involved. Now, before it's too late.
hen3ry (Westchester, NY)
The problem is not solely with the filibuster. It's gerrymandering, the lack of suitable candidates, and how our elections are conducted. The gerrymandering sees to it that whatever party has control retains control if it's in power when redistricting is done. Both parties have gerrymandered but the GOP has done so extensively and, while it appears to be a majority in many cases, it's not. What we have had for a long time is government of, by, and for the rich and with a party whose views do not represent what Americans want. The GOP has refused to seat elected officials. They have attempted to control state governments by passing laws to rescind the powers a Democratic governor has, and they have gone against the will of the people. What is clear is that the GOP is not interested in or concerned about most Americans. They are the party of special interests. It's a shame those interests don't extend to all of us. We need to vote them out of office, period. Then we deal with the filibuster and other issues.
John (Cactose)
Citing recent surveys and polls to support this argument is specious at best and disingenuous at worst. Polls are massively flawed and often wildly incorrect - just ask Hillary Clinton circa November 2016. Polls are a snapshot of a response to a specific question, not representative of how a voter will actually vote when it comes time to complete a ballot. Additionally, many Americans (perhaps most Americans) support political, social and economic ideas that span the political spectrum. That's why someone can be pro-gun control and pro-life at the same time. Or support the NGD but oppose M4A. Those same voters aren't going to find candidates who will represent their ideals fully, so they have to make choices. And those choices often boil down to what those voters value most - or what Mr. Bouie calls "priorities". So to me, the argument made here in support of abolishing the filibuster is based on selective and suspect accounting.
M. (Central Indiana)
Exactly. Because either we won the House and Senate but didn't really. Or because Joe Manchin is actually a Republican. Or both.
John (Cactose)
@M. This is a great example of what really plagues Democrats. During elections we laud our "big tent" of ideas, which includes traditional liberals, progressives, blue dogs, moderates and the like. But then when it comes time to govern we are surprised, dismayed, and angered that those differences lead to difficulties in building consensus. Newsflash M., without Joe Manchin the Democratic Party wouldn't control the Senate, period. You don't have to like Joe Manchin, but don't throw him under the bus for representing the people of West Virginia in exactly the way they intended.
M. (Central Indiana)
@John Newsflash back atcha: We actually don't "control" the Senate; that's my point. Manchin is not a Democrat. Nothing gets done for our side because of that. And for the record, I'm not a big tent Democrat. After four years of Trumpian hell, I was and am fine at saving the planet, welcoming immigrants, and allowing women to control their own bodies. We don't need moderates on these topics; the majority in our country is progressive -- they just need to be allowed to vote.
Julien (Brooklyn)
If we make exceptions to the Filibuster for voting rights, the climate, and whatever else trust the next time Republicans have senate rule they’ll do the same. First, they can easily undo whatever Democrats did but after that please be prepared for them to do the same with regard to gun rights. Do we really want open carry laws like they have in Texas applying to New York? Be very, very careful what you wish for.
skeptonomist (Tennessee)
@Julien A sizable majority in the country favors restrictions on gun ownership, not Texas-style open-carry laws. The will of the majority is being thwarted by the filibuster.
Martin (Chicago)
@Julien You've got it completely backwards on that one, and probably many other issues. If it wasn't for the filibuster, we most likely would have stricter gun control law in the country. The filibuster is aiding and abetting gun proliferation.
Conrad Noel (Washington, DC)
@ Julien We don’t make exceptions to the filibuster for gun control and climate change. Are you pleased with the results? Be careful if we don’t get what we wish for, very careful.
DRS (Greenwich, CT)
The filibuster is the only tool protecting us from one party domination. We don't have a parliamentary system, where multi-party compromises are the norm. Given our system, with its increasing nationalization of every issue and close coordination between the executive and legislature, removing the filibuster would be catastrophic. The founders envisioned the legislature as a co-equal branch representing the various territories diverging interests. Today, without the filibuster, Joe, Chuck and Nancy could rule the country unilaterally with unlimited power. That's scary, and if you don't believe me, imagine that your favored political party is the one out of power.
Conrad Noel (Washington, DC)
The most stable and successful parliamentary democracies, such as the UK, are not fractured multiparty assemblies. Differences between members of the governing party may require compromise, and the opposition can hold the government’s feet to the fire in parliamentary debate, but in such states significant compromise between the government and its opponents is rarely necessary. Read your history and you’ll discover that the endless squabbling and legislative paralysis that you seem to advocate has often been the downfall of democratic government, as it is proving to be today.
Al (Ohio)
@DRS Chuck and Nancy are not dictators but law makers who represent a majority of Americans that push for policy that a majority of the country want. When the will of the majority can be undermined by the minority, the majority is setup to be exploited by the minority; which is exactly what happens.
DRS (Greenwich, CT)
@Al - you may view Chuck and Nancy as benevolent, but I see them as being pushed hard by the crazy left Sanders/Squad types to force trillions of dollars of "programs" on the country right before they lose the next election. Next time it could be Trump, McCarthy and McConnell forcing their policies on you, and without minority protections you'll have no say.
Martin (Chicago)
The real problem with the filibuster is that it throws the Constitution's mechanism designed to protect the minority out of whack. That mechanism IS the Senate and the electoral college. The electoral college was considered such an important mechanism that some were not counted as a full fledged human being. If the founding fathers wanted a filibuster they would have enshrined it in the Constitution. The filibuster is phony, warped originalism interpreted in any way necessary to maintain political power over the majority. Minority rule must end.
Robert Goldman (Florida)
Thanks for pointing out that the Senate protects small states without the need for a filibuster. Beyond that, when one party’s governing philosophy is not to govern, the filibuster is an obstacle to measures that can improve people’s lives, and society more generally. That said, it is terrifying to imagine what a slim-majority GOP Senate might do if not for the filibuster. In that situation I can envision myself and others who lean left grateful for it. I wonder what this country would be like today if the filibuster had never been adopted. As you can see I am having a hard deciding on this one.
Martin (Chicago)
@Robert Goldman I have faith in the country and its people. Senators will be voted out of office for overstepping their "mandate". Of course n some states it won't make a difference, but in other states the margins are slim. In the slim margin states, many Senators will find they never really had a mandate if they promote legislation that is outlandish. More people will vote and that will make a big difference.
SaneAmerican (Sacramento, CA)
The filibuster is not in the constitution. All those "constitutionalists" should agree. Majority rules (51, not 60). I live in the most populist state, yet our representation in the Senate is the same as tiny population states. The majority of the population is already at a disadvantage in the halls of power. C'mon Dems -- wrap yourselves in the Constitution as your defense to cancel the filibuster and get stuff done that the majority wants and needs! The days of when the R's win, they're in power/when the D's win the R's are still in power, must end!
Weather Girl (Boston)
Whether the filibuster works or doesn't work is immaterial. The imminent threat posed by Climate Change requires decisive action, right now, which is impossible if 60 votes are required. Consider the Jet Stream that's become precarious. As fresh water from melting icebergs reduce ocean salinity, that wind current is shifting. "When" that change becomes significant, the east coast and UK will see a cold spell calamity that's unprecedented. Consider the Heat Dome, a weather mass that remained stationary for 3 days and baked Portland. Had it remained stationary for just a few days longer, Portland would have seen temps in excess of 120. The die off would have been massive. We've been "lucky" thus far, but waiting for Mitch McConnell to become non partisan is ridiculous. Democrats were handed the majority. Use it.
Sgt Kelly (Boca)
@Weather Girl The scope of the disasters headed our way will eventually shock all of the deniers into action but it may not happen after "only" one disaster. More likely, it will require two disasters. History reminds us that most of the Japanese military refused unconditional surrender after Hiroshima. A second "A Bomb" on Nagasaki resulted in capitulation. My perception of Trump, McConnell and the rest of the malcontents is the same. Unprecedented stubbornness and stupidity in the face of an overwhelming & imminent threat.
Retired Rich (Boca)
@Weather Girl Actually, Greece is experiencing the catastrophe you expected and so is California. But Greece is outside the US and California is a Blue State so republicans in congress don't care.
Michael Gilbert (Charleston SC)
Unfortunately, the filibuster works all too well in accomplishing what it was designed to to - stop legislation. It has nothing to do with consensus or bi-partisanship, and everything to to with letting the minority dictate what is best for the country. That there are both Democrats and Republicans defending this most backwards of parliamentary rules just shows where their heads are at - and its not about doing their jobs of governing or legislating. The filibuster is an impediment to meaningful progress, giving cover to a Senate that has become increasingly dysfunctional. And it's no way to run a country.
Andy Beckenbach (Silver City, NM)
While it would be best to simply eliminate the filibuster, that isn't going to happen unless Democrats can win enough Senate races in 2022 to make Manchin and Sinema irrelevant. In the meantime, perhaps those two DINOs would be willing to make two changes: 1. Require a talking filibuster. At least make the obstructionists work for it. 2. Change the requirement for cloture to "60% of all those present and voting." This second change shifts the burden from the party wanting cloture to the party trying to block it. Every 1.5 'Nay' voters who are missing reduces the number of 'Yea' votes required for cloture by 1. It's not ideal, but might be doable.
Tom Q (Minneapolis, MN)
I guess now that all of my history teachers and professors were wrong. I was taught the nation's founders created a government where there would be majority rule with the rights of the minority protected. Thanks to the filibuster, we now have minority rule with the will of the majority thwarted. As this relates specifically to voting rights, we now have Democratic senators who believe it is more important that the Republicans be able to filibuster than a citizen be able to vote. And finally, I hope those same teachers and professors update their teachings about the nation's founders belief that reasonable people could come together and compromise for the benefit of the nation. Republicans no longer see compromise as a virtue. It is now a sign of weakness and therefore should be avoided at all cost.
jemerk (Illinois)
@Tom Q Arron Burr knew that too, but he could not get it over the hump.
WilliamB (Somerville MA)
Seems to me that most citizens just want effective solutions to the kinds of looming, national- and global-scale crises bearing down on us, and they don't really care about the political machinery behind them. The requirement that these solutions must be "bipartisan" seems to have been invented by and for the Beltway media--no one else cares. As evidence, I note that it is applied almost exclusively when Democrats have control of government.
You Noticed This (I Presume?)
"$66 billion in funding for freight and passenger rail, and hundreds of billions of dollars more to expand broadband internet access ... " Great! But isn't that a frank admission that capitalism is neither self-supporting nor self-sustaining? Gee, Mitch, your god is failing. These rail companies, most of them, are private, like Warren Buffet's BNSF; he just wanted to own a railroad. Don't we all? Trains are cool. And while the internet helps John Q. Public, improving it also benefits Facebook, Google, et alia, correct? I'm a capitalist, but one can see that pure capitalism ain't the glorious, unstoppable successful beast that some tout it to be. It needs a safety net, a generic term for Big Government. I like government and business working together. Their union makes for a better world, a better life, a happier, healthier citizenry. And such a union would be even more obviously helpful if it weren't for corruption and greed. (Incompetence is harder to stamp out, for it's built in to all segments of society in all sorts of ways.)
Clare Cy (Upstate, NY)
The way the two Parties are now configured, the Democrats have an agenda of trying to help their constituents and the country. The Republicans have no agenda other than trying to prevent anything positive from happening in the country, either legislatively or by filling the courts with judges who will use their power to stop a positive agenda from the Bench. In that environment, the filibuster can only hurt the Democrats and only help the Republicans, and I don’t know why Democrats, including the President, don’t see that.
Kate K (Nevada, MO)
The filibuster was not provided for in the Constitution, nor did our founding fathers establish it in any way. It is a product of Senate rules. There is nothing sacred about it. Yes, compromise is necessary in a democracy; but the filibuster results in such watered-down results that one has to question the benefits of extreme compromise.
Thucydides (Columbia, SC)
Danish mathematician/poet/philosopher/artist, Piet Hein, wrote in "Majority Rule" that one person can rule as "the majority" simply by manipulating the voting structure. ("Within the party, he was of the faction/ that was supported by the greater fraction" etc.) And he was talking about a true democracy which ours isn't. Imagine how much easier it is for an unprincipled politician, who already has the system partially pre-rigged, to take control if he is in the right party. But then, we don't have to imagine.
Bonny (Boca)
@Thucydides "... an unprincipled politician, who already has the system partially pre-rigged, to take control if he is in the right party." Gosh, do you mean Trump, McConnell, DeSantis, or Abbott?
Has anyone ever suggested reforming the filibuster to require a 55 vote threshold? 55/45 represents a clear majority and in the present day senate it would also be bipartisan.
SFOviaMSP (Pacific Ocean)
Filibuster notwithstanding, bipartisanship still exists, is alive and well for the majority of legislation. It’s the few tough bills that make the news cycle where bipartisanship is difficult to achieve. The senate didn’t only pass the infrastructure bill. It passed many more bills, but who knows? Many, I’d say most, are specific to senators and house representatives constituents. Don’t count Congress out just yet.
James K. Lowden (Camden, Maine)
No, it’s not just "a few tough bills". It’s literally hundreds of bills, from climate change to healthcare to voting rights to gun regulation. The house passed many bills under Pelosi that the senate under McConnell never even debated. This is not new; it’s only a new low. The US senate historically is where legislation goes to die. The ramifications extend beyond legislation not proceeding. Because congress does not act, it sloughs off its responsibility to an ever more powerful president. Congress hasn’t declared war since 1941. We were in Afghanistan for 20 years, and without congressional action the president will retain unilateral power to go to war to "fight terrorism" under the resolution passed for Iraq in 2001. Similarly on immigration we have DACA, an administrative fiat in answer to congressional ossification.
Katalina (Austin, TX)
@James K. Lowden Congressional ossification nails it. How deplorable all this is...a new low as you put it. And to think of what Afghanistan went through and now faces, as well as Iraq, the utter failure of those countries with a price tag and death toll for both this country and those two a tragedy. We face great challenges with climate and need to have real representation from the Senate in particular at this time, not continued obstruction from McConnell. Biden faces--with this continued obstruction from McConnell--even more challenges.
Mike Cos (NYC)
“Consensus in the Senate does not mean consensus among voters; it means consensus among partisan lawmakers in the context of equal state representation.” Representation voted in by.....voters. That’s the only consensus we can hope for. If you cannot get any votes from the opposition party, then any bill is doomed to create discontent. In this case, you’ll lay down the ground work for Trump 2024.
dressmaker (USA)
@Mike Cos I really think trump's day is over.
weak cheeks (Monitoring the Situation)
The filibuster is unconstitutional. The constitution says that the VP votes in the Senate if there is a tie. So the founders wanted majority rule in the Senate. What sets precedent, what's written in the constitution or a Senate rule (the filibuster)?
Bill (NYC)
Not abolishing the filibuster and actually rebalancing the scales is going to doom this country.
Mike L (Halifax, Canada)
"The case against filibuster reform is that the 60-vote requirement to end debate ensures consensus on any given piece of legislation." The 60 vote number is neither a consensus, nor a majority. It's an arbitrary number with an odd and inexcusable reason for being.
Norville T. Johnstone (New York)
@Mike L How is 60 votes not a majority?
Jim (PA)
Remember, Mitch McConnell had no problem weakening the filibuster to jam through Supreme Court appointments that had the support of just barely 50 Republican Senators. Weakening or outright abolishing the filibuster just carries that ball a little farther down the field; it is not a revolutionary concept. The US Senate was officially broken the minute Repubs refused to even hold a confirmation hearing for one of President Obama’s SC nominees. Time to fix it by abolishing the filibuster.
Chris Lawrence (Ottawa)
@Jim You hit the nail on the head there sir. Mitch McConnell has already stated that he will not advance a Biden Supreme Court nominee in the last 2 years of his presidency if he is the Senate majority leader. Confirming that he will pick and choose what rules he deems convenient for his party and ignore the rest. I just can't wrap my head around why some Democrats are so staunchly against changing a rule that will be completely bypassed the moment the other party wants to. This situation reminds me of the tax cut bill Trump introduced. The vote for it was called hours after the 1200 page bill was available to be reviewed and had hand written notes all over it (and was passed without a single Democratic vote). Not a single Democrat even had the chance to read it before the vote. Fast forward 4 years and it's all about being bi-partisan and ensuring every bill is reviewed for weeks before it's considered. The Republicans of today just make up the rules as they go, while expecting Democrats to go to absurd lengths to follow process. The shocking part is how well it seems to work for them.
Cindy (NY)
@Jim Exactly right. Well put.
William Wroblicka (Northampton, MA)
@Jim It seems you're advocating eliminating entirely the thing that could have prevented the injustice you're complaining about. Talk about cutting off your nose to spite your face!
Ed (Texas)
The filibuster works to make change incremental and only with wide consensus. So, the title of the article is misleading. However, there are plenty of reasons to dislike it, particularly when one supports a majority unable to get legislation passed. The best replacement would be a system requiring supermajority support only for some matters, as is the case in most presidential constitutions outside the US. The most common matters included would be Supreme Court confirmations and changes to national election laws.
alan brown (manhattan)
What can you expect when you have men like Trump admired by 40% of Americans? I might add that we currently are led by a man I admire, who has passed his sell by date, a congress whose only concern is election and not the good of its citizens and a judiciary tainted by the means they got there. It's been a long time since we had an FDR, HST, JFK, RFK or MLK in positions of leadership. You get what you deserve.
Joe Runciter (Santa Fe, NM)
@alan brown Were this a democracy you might actually "get what you deserve". As it is, that interpretation of karma fails.
Bob Curtis (Santa Fe, NM)
When the Republicans once again gain a majority in the Senate, the filibuster will disappear. Unlike Democrats, the Republicans know how to use power.
Norville T. Johnstone (New York)
@Bob Curtis Why didn’t they do it when a Trump was in office and the had the majority in the Senate?
Joe (New York)
This is a messy problem, but perhaps we can look at it from another perspective. It may very well be in the next few years that we have Republican control of both of the White House and both chambers of Congress. In such a situation, would you advocate eliminating the filibuster against, say, a strengthening of the Patriot Act or another foreign war? To me, it appears the chief complaint today against the filibuster is that it allows a minority of Senators to stop legislation that the (bare) majority desires. When the situation reverses itself, do you want to remove this tool? Senator Biden suggested in 2005 that he may support the filibuster to block the appointment of Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court,
syfredrick (Providence)
@Joe Republicans in the Senate, under the leadership of Mitchell, have demonstrated that they would have no qualms about ending the filibuster if it furthered their agenda. So, your what-if argument carries no weight.
Norville T. Johnstone (New York)
@syfredrick Wrong! Trump wanted McConnell to end the filibuster and he didn’t. History does matter.
Clare Cy (Upstate, NY)
@Joe Nearly all filibusters have been used to block good legislation (civil rights, voting rights) and only rarely used for good (to block a right-wing loon SCOTUS pick). This loyalty to a random parliamentary procedure (not found anywhere in the Constitution, I might add) on the part of Democrats is mystifying, given how many times in the last forty years it’s been helpful to them versus how many times it’s bitten them on the backside. Nearly the entire legislative agenda of the last Democratic President before this one was effectively blocked for five of his eight years in office by the filibuster (President Obama had a brief supermajority in the Senate during his second year in office and had a Democratic minority in the Senate his last two years in office.).
Walter Bruckner (Cleveland, Ohio)
The only way that we are ever getting rid of the filibuster is if we get rid of the Senate. That will also free us of the tyranny of "States Rights." (States don't have rights. People do.) So let's go to a unicameral parliamentary system; a trained, professional judiciary modelled on the medical profession; ranked choice voting in multimember districts drawn by that judiciary, and a ban on private campaign donations. Or you could just move to Germany.
Jim (PA)
@Walter Bruckner - This comments doesn’t make sense. Getting rid of the Senate requires an overhaul of the US Constitution. Getting rid of the filibuster requires a mere party-line rules vote. The two do not even approach the same level of political difficulty.
Al (NJ)
@Jim good point, but we should still rewrite the constitution and shift the balance of power from states to the federal government.
617to416 (Ontario via Massachusetts)
@Jim Yes, but getting rid of the archaic and flawed Constitution is exactly what needs to be done to save American democracy. Of course it won't be done—which is why American democracy is most certainly doomed.
Ted (NY)
President Bide is allergic to non bipartisanship deals. It’s worked for him, he says. He recalls the days when people shook hands and a compromise was worked out. The “bipartisanship” infrastructure deal will be used as an example that it still works. However, consider as Alex Pareene wrote in the NYT: “Mr. Biden and Senate Democrats (Schumer) set out to prove that their preferred way of doing business still works, and they did: The Senate can still function, not by just doing something but by taking a very long time to do half of something, on a bipartisan basis, with a dubious promise to finish the rest later.” So there you have it. The Administration lost time that could have been used to extend the rent moratorium, for instance. Instead, the moratorium is gasping and the President is saying to working families, like with Afghanistan, “you’re on your own.” He won’t do anything about student debt either. Yet we’re in the middle of a second, more deadly Covid wave. This is what a revolving door Administration looks like. Biden has no appetite to eliminate the filibuster.
Lawrence (Washington D.C.)
Freeing the Senate from the shackle of the supermajority involves electing more democratic senators. Rough calculations show the twenty smallest states have a combined population smaller that the total of California. Makes you wish you lived in a parliamentary democracy.
Norville T. Johnstone (New York)
Not me. I’m not sure why everyone thinks we want to live like California. The cities are over crowded and on the decline, inadequate and expensive housing, highest number of people living in poverty, horrific climate damaging traffic, annual wildfires, excessive bureaucracy, etc etc
Ray Katz (Philadelphia, PA)
Climate catastrophe isn’t just another issue. It is an immediate existential crisis. Our action (or inaction) will determine if our children and grandchildren live or die. It will determine whether or not our species has a future. And it’s here NOW. We are experiencing deadly heatwaves, mudslides, fires, and storms of unprecedented magnitude and frequency. We must make the maximum effort to slash CO2 emissions NOW. No filibuster, rule, law, person or institution can be allowed to get in the way. This is not politics. This is like an extinction level asteroid heading towards Earth. The time for debate is over. It’s life or death and time’s nearly up.
Lilo (Michigan)
@Ray Katz You say that no "..rule, law, person, or institution can be allowed to get in the way". The fact that you want to throw that out for what you claim is an emergency is exactly why you shouldn't be allowed to do so. The other side also has things they claim are emergencies for which they would be only too happy to do away with US rules, laws, and institutions. And mores and laws changed under emergencies have a nasty way of becoming permanent. For further evidence I direct you to the 2001 AUMF, the Patriot Act, indefinite detention without trial and other obscenities.
Ben (Canton,NC)
I disagree. This unity of purpose doesn't exist. If one steamrolls into the future you'll have disunion or sanguinary civil war. Lincoln never would have started down that same road, if he had only known. He said as much!
James K. Lowden (Camden, Maine)
The future is coming anyway. As the author says, inaction in congress will determine the fate of the country every bit as much as action will. It’s only a question of what that fate will be.
John Chastain (Michigan (the heart of the Great Lakes))
I could posit a variety of hypotheticals but something I read awhile ago will do. We simply don’t know what will happen if we end the filibuster. The senate currently sits more or less equally divided. Today’s senate is controlled by the democrats, 2022’s senate may be controlled by the republicans. 2024’s government can return to complete control by the republicans, again. It really comes down to two things, one is that what can be done by you can be done to you, the other is there is no trust between the partisans in power. For some if we end the filibuster then the first thing will driven by the second thing and the results? You see my point……
James K. Lowden (Camden, Maine)
It’s better to have power and be held accountable for power. One reason for the current popular muddle in politics is that senators in particular can always blame "the system". Sometimes they even take credit for the opposition’s work. If Republicans do gain control, they’ll wipe out the filibuster in a New York minute if it suits them. But they should be careful what they wish for: if they pass just one of their evergreen unpopular measures — privatizing social security, say, or outlawing abortion — the backlash will be like nothing anyone alive today has ever seen. I fear inaction more than action. The environment, for one, will not wait. Nor will democracy, if the states are allowed to void it.
Jim (PA)
@John Chastain - Do you seriously believe that the Republicans won’t immediately abolish the filibuster the minute they regain control of the Senate? I don’t think you are fully grasping the magnitude of the hard right lurch that party has taken in the last two years. They just tried to overturn an election, for gods sake. Democrats need to stop nervously fretting, and need to start learning how to exercise power, or this country is doomed.
A Voice of Reason (Indiana)
The underlying issue IS the partisanship. The filibuster as it is currently implemented does make no sense and should be reformed to require in those extreme cases where a senator feels strongly about a bill, should have to 'hold the floor'. As it stands, requiring 60 votes to close debate on any bill has the effect of nullifying the constitutional requirement that a simple majority is needed to pass normal business. But, as I said, this issue is the extreme partisanship. The filibuster is just a tool that is used. In its present form if you abolish it in a 50-50 senate but the partisanship remains, all you are doing is handing the leverage from one side to the other. The filibuster needs to be reformed, not abolished. But the real problem of partisanship needs to be addressed.
Thucydides (Columbia, SC)
@A Voice of Reason "The filibuster needs to be reformed, not abolished." Hard no. It needs to be abolished. What possible good does it do to allow a single Senator to compete in some endurance contest to see how long he can talk? With all due respect to Jimmy Stewart, if a Senator feels that strongly about against a bill, he should take it to the people and ballot box - it does more there than talking to an empty Senate chamber. Fun fact: The longest "hold the floor" filibuster was my home state Senator Strom Thurmond who, in 1957, spoke for 24 hours and 18 minutes against the original Civil Rights Act. Thurmond failed to best his own record in 1964 when he spoke against the second Civil Rights Act. Thurmond was also a pioneer in early adult diaper technology.
A Voice of Reason (Indiana)
@Thucydides You are right, and I do agree with you. However, the one thing that I think the talking filibuster might do is, it might prevent the 'majority' from passing some horrible legislation in the middle of the night. With a true talking filibuster a minority could temporarily stop the bill, and (if it was truly the rare and dramatic event that a true talking filibuster would undoubtedly be), it would turn the nations attention to the measure, and if it really is truly bad legislation (and not just something the minority disagrees with) then that attention would or could arouse media and public response that might give the 'majority' pause, and they might think again. But if the country really is behind it and in agreement with the majority, as is the case with the infrastructure bill, then they would still be able to proceed.
JT - John Tucker (Ridgway, CO)
Minority rule is the problem. The filibuster is one aspect of minority rule that is most powerful when used in bad faith. It exacerbates the power of the senate minority which will often be the party representing an overwhelming majority of Americans. We start from a bad premise- a constitution that should be revered as an 18th century accomplishment fails our 21st century world. It is antithetical to the timeless, noble aspirations embodied in the declaration it was designed to make manifest. "All men are created equal" has no meaning in a country in which Montanans are given 80 times the power of Californians, residents of D.C. have no representation and an electoral college insures one party may regulary lose by 7 milion votes and still win. If Dems ever win a several seat majority they must establish statehood for DC, Puerto Rico and the Pacific territories. Larger states should split into several states to level a ridiculously slanted playing field. I weary of being mastered by a minority of oppressors in states mostly subsidized by the majority of Americans they rule. Of knowing my party must win by 7 million or more votes to gain the presidency and the Courts are packed and chosen by a minority of citizens. The constitution won't serve to address the issues we face because it grossly favors small states and requires those states relinquish power to change. Dems shoiuld act accordingly.
Steve (Zeller)
Your argument reveals a lack of knowledge as to why the founding fathers set in place things to protect smaller states from the larger ones.
Greg Gerner (Wake Forest, NC)
And as long as the Senate privileges partisan minorities over everything other than overwhelming bipartisan majorities, there’s little chance of progress on any of our most pressing issues. Which is to say that far from undermining filibuster reform, the pending infrastructure bill only underscores the need to free the Senate from the shackle of the supermajority. "Shackle." A lamentably apt analogy.
J P (Grand Rapids)
The Constitution assumes that the Senate will have tied votes and assigns the VP the job of tie-breaker. To the extent that a Senate procedure detracts from the operation of the Constitutional mechanism, the Senate procedure is anti-Constitutional. The 60-vote cloture is such a procedure. Someone please tell Sen Manchin he should help the Senate get in line with the words of the Constitution.
George Foyle (SoCal)
The author seems frustrated that the policies he endorses are not being passed without compromise. Yet in recent elections progressives have not prevailed, and polls demonstrate that most of the US remains in the center. So the complaint boils down to the fact that the filibuster is preventing the desires of a very vocal and currently influential minority from being instituted. I’d say this is precisely the reason the filibuster was created and why it is still needed.
James K. Lowden (Camden, Maine)
Progressives have persuaded moderates on a variety of pending legislation, from climate change to voting rights. The energy came from the left, but votes came from the middle. No amount of energy or votes will overcome entrenched interests, though. The fossil fuel senators will not vote for electrification. Those who rely on a diminishing constituency cannot favor greater democracy. Remember, too, this current filibuster is a modern invention, instituted by McConnell in 2010 to "make sure Obama is a one-term president". Historically it was used rarely. Only under the modern Republican Party has it become routine. Working as "intended"? Depends on whose intention.
Incorporeal Being (here)
What’s “progressive” about ensuring all eligible voters have equal access to the voting booth? That’s an American value all of us (should) share!
Louie Bee (Lenoir City, TN)
@George Foyle The filibuster was created to keep POC from achieving civil rights.
AKJersey (New Jersey)
More than anything else, McConnell wants to maintain the filibuster in its current form. That requires throwing a bone to Manchin from time to time. This infrastructure bill does that. But we should not expect that McConnell will give an inch on voting rights.
bobdc6 (FL)
Of course the filibuster works, for Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, who have used it to elevate themselves to the level of power that only Mitch McConnell has held up until now. Those three now control both the Senate and Joe Biden. Those three will continue to deny the right to vote for millions of Americans, and will allow the two infrastructure bills to pass only if all three agree among themselves to allow it to pass. As a result, Congress will probably change to Republican control in 2022, and both Manchin and Sinema will also probably change to Republican shortly thereafter, revealing themselves to be what most of us already know they are.
Brian (Upstate NY)
A good, clear, concise, and compelling explanation. Now if only a certain few senators could be made to read this.
Gary (Scaggsville, MD)
The Filibuster is working exactly as proponents want it to work. It prevents raising revenue when Democrats are in the majority and prevents curbs on deficit spending when Republicans are in the majority. Whatever its original intent, the filibuster is now a protection mechanism for the wealthiest individuals and corporations. Those who worry about what Republicans will do when they're in the majority have little faith in Democratic policies, fully enacted without Republican amendments, winning over the Public.
Taylor (USA)
So many Progressives, like Jamelle, previously stated that there was no way that an infrastructure bill would be passed in the Senate due to Republican opposition therefore the elimination of the filibuster was justified. Now, the justification to eliminate the filibuster is that we are not going to get other items on our agenda so let's ditch the filibuster. Maybe, the solution is simply to send all "non-believers" to re-education camps so that they understand that the Progressive way is the only way. Progressives, anti-democratic instincts, are getting scarier and scarier as time goes on. The problem with this type of approach is that there will be mid-terms in 2022 and a general election in 2024 and sometimes be careful what you wish for -- i.e. Harry Reid. Independent voters who still decide national elections are not going to buy into let's change the rules so that we get a competitive advantage.
Bender (Chicago, IL)
@Taylor Bipartisan compromises only exist because Democrats have a progressive wing that asks for more and sometimes succeeds. The opening position matters and when it’s the center, our country slides right as it has done for decades.
Taylor (USA)
@Bender To suggest that the infrastructure bill is a slide to the right is patently absurd. You have 30+ Republican Senators that oppose the bill. Much of the Republican opposition relates to Green New Deal aspects of the bill. Progressives rarely get legislation passed that they support and with good reason. Then again, Progressives rarely get elected unless they are come from extremely liberal urban centers. Progressives could not even garner 40% of the Democratic Primary vote in 2016 and 2020. There is a reason for this.
Paul (Ohio)
@Taylor The problem with the filibuster is that it's just too easy to use and stop the Senate from ever doing anything without a super-majority. It was never intended to be a routine procedure. What if instead we require that invoking the procedure requires 55 votes? And its use should always be brought to the floor for (time limited) debate. A major point of the rule should be to bring the process well out into the open so that the people can clearly understand who does and doesn't support the proposal and why. I think we can all understand the fear many people have of a tyranny of the majority and this should be considered when adjusting the rules. But today's tyranny of the minority is plainly not an acceptable solution: The filibuster process must either be changed or be killed off.
Cynical (Knoxville, TN)
Once again, I'm telling you the filibuster is here to stay for a while. Let's fight about things we can change. Such as getting IDs to all those who don't have one so the right-wingers can't argue about that anymore. Organize transport on a large scale to help people make it to voting booths. And try and get AOC to stop competing with MTG and DJT for public attention.
John (Lubbock)
@Cynical You can’t out organize gerrymandering. Once districts are changed to favor the GOP, they will retain control for at least a decade—-a decade we don’t have for solving serious problems.
Cynical (Knoxville, TN)
@John Let's fight the battles we can. Progressive voters don't participate in local and mid-term elections so state legislatures are lost to the right-wing. Comments like 'defund the police' suppress the middle-of-road voters.
Scottsdale Jack (In exile in CT)
It would also help if legislation (like the infrastructure bill) would stick to infrastructure and not be filled with a wish list of goodies beloved by one party but abhorred by the other. The game both parties play of stuffing unrelated things into bills hoping they'll sneak through should stop.
Norville T. Johnstone (New York)
Yes but the Democratic Left will never go for this. They literally wish the GOP and anyone who supports them just disappeared so they could run the country as they see fit. They abhor opposition and want to build a benevolent autocratic dictatorship but only if they can be assured that they will be in charge of it.
D (WA)
Abolishing the filibuster to "free" the Senate (whose structure will remain absurdly unrepresentative, advantaging Republicans) feels like "we have to do something, and this is something." It's far from clear that the actual legislative commitments will match the online energy behind this push. The filibuster may not "work" to promote high-minded compromise, but nothing else in our political system is functioning that way either - it's a reflection of the times. The filibuster worked for the Democrats from 2017-19 to prevent the crazier House Freedom Caucus ideas from becoming law. And the lack of a filibuster for Supreme Court nominees meant there wasn't a thing we could do about the Amy Coney Barrett nomination. Today's Senate freed from the supermajority requirement might pass some more good bills, but they wouldn't be everything we would want - getting 50 Democrats together for meaningful climate legislation is still a pretty tall order. Republicans are more ideologically united and better at marching in lockstep, so when the shoe is on the other foot they'll pass a lot more laws we don't like.
Erika Butler (Sacramento)
@D Maybe the GOP knew it was going to be filibustered and thus could ratchet up the rhetoric without actually having to worry about the effects of their legislation. After all, if any of their voters ask, they can just blame the Democrats for not being able to pass it.
bobdc6 (FL)
@D What we would have without a filibuster would more closely, one man, one vote, instead of the gerrymandered, voter suppressed, electorate that the Republican Party has mandated now. With the filibuster, we are looking at the end of the two party system in 2022.
Chris (Andes, NY)
Imagine a world without the filibuster; one where every time power changed hands, a new raft of legislation was passed - potentially as often as every two years. Laws, taxes, business regulations, criminal codes, etc., all as ephemeral as an executive order. It would be chaos. I am not saying that the status quo is sustainable - it has gone too far in the other direction, making government ineffectual and sclerotic. I personally think the standing filibuster is the right solution. I find it absurd that you can just invoke the filibuster, and then everyone goes home. It’s should be painful. It should be difficult. It should be enough to note that every call to abolish the filibuster only ever comes from those whose preferred party is in power. It’s the very definition of myopic.
Erika Butler (Sacramento)
@Chris Where in the world does this actually happen? Nearly every legislative assembly in the world requires only a simple majority to enact legislation, and I’ve never heard of anything like you describe. Are you sure that what you’re saying isn’t just a theory that fails to take into account the real world?
Z (US)
Imagine what Trump could’ve done without the filibuster in 2016 though. I’d rather play it safe here.
David (Oak Lawn)
The reason there is partisanship in the first place is because people disagree on issues. They elect representatives who best reflect their favored ideas. Sometimes public will is not translated into policy enactment. But if the filibuster is what is holding back translating public will into law, isn't representative democracy also holding back the codification of public will? Wouldn't incorporating some form of direct democracy be a more thoroughgoing solution than getting rid of the filibuster? The answer, I've found, is that anything that reduces a political party's power will not be done. So it's pie in the sky thinking to expect our politicians do away with the filibuster, just as they wouldn't amend the Constitution to allow for more participatory government. This won't happen for a long time. Another analogy is giving rich people an option to pay taxes or not to pay taxes. It takes a certain personality to think he or she can channel the will of the people (or in the case of a rich baron, assume they are worth all the money they have accrued) and with people like that, they're not going to voluntarily reduce their power or money or influence. So I think things will stay put for the foreseeable future and there may be even more generous government concessions to the people to avoid future crises in democracy, until some enlightened future Americans create an executive consul and a tri-cameral legislative body with one section representing direct voting by the people.
Erika Butler (Sacramento)
@David Benjamin Franklin: “A system where the minority overpowers the majority would be contrary to the Common Practices of Assemblies in all countries and Ages.“ Alexander Hamilton: “ To give a minority a negative upon the majority (which is always the case where more than a majority is requisite to a decision), is, in its tendency, to subject the sense of the greater number to that of the lesser. … This is one of those refinements which, in practice, has an effect the reverse of what is expected from it in theory. The necessity of unanimity in public bodies, or of something approaching towards it, has been founded upon a supposition that it would contribute to security. But its real operation is to embarrass the administration, to destroy the energy of the government, and to substitute the pleasure, caprice, or artifices of an insignificant, turbulent, or corrupt junto, to the regular deliberations and decisions of a respectable majority.“
David (Oak Lawn)
@Erika Butler Point taken. Majority/minority power-sharing has never had a frictionless solution in the history of the world, in my opinion, despite our Founders' philosophical musings for and against minority protection and majority rule. It is a great quandary that we still haven't worked out and no nation has adequately worked out. Countries that have more comity in government tend to have more ethnic homogeneity and political agreement. Or they have tightly controlled legislatures, such as in autocracies. So the fact that we have to compromise as much as we do is a good thing, and probably is another reason why we should keep the filibuster: because it incentivizes deliberation and compromise. Just imagine Democrats being on the opposite end of a filibuster-free Senate down the road. What if Trump comes back in 2024 and the religious right comes to power? They could effectively legislate away a lot of civil liberties and reshape government without a filibuster. There are a lot of hypothetical scenarios like that that are easy to imagine. Karl Popper theorized that democracy works best when negative democracy is allowed to flourish too. That means the ability to block bad bills and veto bad ideas from becoming law. As much as it would be great to be able to get everything on Democrats' wish list, dismantling the filibuster provides a terrible opportunity for future defection, from a game theory perspective.
fed up (las pulgas)
Just like a Broken Record that convenient skips the most important notes: We live in a Plutocracy with National government for the rich, that they may not perish; and secondly, we may have good but limited freedoms and access to a democratic process, such as voting, but the effects of the latter are only local.
ZB (Montpelier, Vermont)
The supermajority requirement for any and all legislation is a recent phenomenon. Madison even warned against it, saying that “it would be no longer the majority that would rule: the power would be transferred to the minority.” The supermajority requirement in the Senate obstructs democracy, it does not protect it. The people vote for which party controls Congress, let their voices be heard!
Bob (Evanston, IL)
Manchin and Sinema refuse to abolish the filibuster or to modify it in any way. If and when the Republicans are in a majority and the Democrats plan to filibuster any of their outlandish proposals, you can bet your last dollar that they will either abolish the filibuster or modify it so their legislation can pass.
Max (Downeast Maine)
What's the difference? McConnell has been an obstructionist forever, results are the same. I would say that about the other side, but I can't. I've never heard a Democrat actually say, "I don't care what they try to do, I'm going to block it."
Robert David South (Watertown NY)
@Max Stop blocking it. Let them show their colors. It will cost them ultimately. But do this only where it doesn't take away the possibility that it will cost them ultimately.
David Weintraub (Edison NJ)
@CGV They did. They got rid of the filibuster which stopped them from doing the one thing they care about, appointing judges, and they did it within weeks after the start of the Senate session.
cud (Spain)
I agree with everything you say in this article except for one thing... I disagree with your definition of "filibuster". The term as you use it is what the senate currently uses. But this is not a filibuster, it's a super-majority requirement imposed by a procedural rule that is misnamed "filibuster". A filibuster occurs when a senator feels strongly enough about an issue to halt procedure with the hope of convincing others to join in against the given proposal. The senator puts skin into the game, and anybody joining in must do the same. Reputations are on the line, and there is a cost in terms of political capital. Either the filibuster has the moral strength to sustain blocking procedure, or it doesn't. Either those exercising the filibuster have the moral and physical strength to hold the floor, or they don't. Either the full senate is interested enough to be present for a vote on cloture, or it isn't. This current thing you call a filibuster is a travesty. That we even agree to call it a filibuster is harmful to democracy as we know it (or don't know it, as the case may be).
McGloin (Brooklyn)
@cud Yes, a THREAT to filibuster is not a Filibuster. Restore the Filibuster to a long speech.
JHarrison (Boston)
Do Democrats with their razor thin majorities in Congress really think they have a mandate to remake the country? Let me answer: they do not. The fillibuster is not the problem, it's that the country has not embraced the progressive direction.
John (Lubbock)
@JHarrison The actual numbers aren’t razor thin: Ds received millions more votes; polls of all voters have significant majority in favor of legislation to address voting rights, child care, health care, and climate change. The House is constrained by a ceiling on total number of representatives, favoring less populous states; gerrymandering further ensures gross misrepresentation. Your premise is incorrect: there is majority support for many progressive policies.
Norville T. Johnstone (New York)
@John Incorrect. There is a majority in certain areas of the country but not a majority at the state level.
Louie Bee (Lenoir City, TN)
@JHarrison Let me ask just a few question of all you commenters. Are you satisfied with what has happened to our country? Do our laws need changing? Should everyone be able to vote without restrictions? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, then you are a progressive. If you want progress to me made, then you are a progressive. What have the moderates of our country achieved in the last half century since Reagan? So don't go labeling progressive as radicals because you are probably one yourself.
Scottsdale Jack (In exile in CT)
I'm one of those people that thinks I could run things better than the current people in the government. But they are making the rules, not I. I'll let them handle it. And frankly getting rid of the filibuster would come back to bite the Democrats the next time the Republicans take Congress.
Bronco Pete (great midwest)
Let's cut to the chase. Politicians may start out with good intentions but the inherent corruption of power in politics turns them feral within a single election cycle. The filibuster is the clearest symbol of all things political. A demonstration of all things bad about public service and politicians. People like to wrap state rights or minority rights into the argument but it's just the same old fashion smoke filled, backroom, good ol' boy system.
Anthony (Western Kansas)
This stems from the issues of gerrymandering and voter suppression. Our representatives do not truly represent us.
ASD (Oslo)
Perhaps the filibuster wouldn't quite the problem that it has become if it actually still used the "old" rules associated with a filibuster. I'm certainly old enough to remember when a filibuster meant a continuous presence on the Senate floor, even if that meant Senators taking turns reading from a telephone book in order to prevent a pause in the debate. The "cost" to the party responsible for the filibuster was high: there's a limit to how long people can continue to take turns droning on before admitting defeat. In comparison, today's filibuster is practically without cost -- it is simply announced. No bleary-eyed Senators trying to stay awake and keep talking; just a complete disregard for the actual will of the people.
John Leonard (Massachusetts)
@ASD : You write "Perhaps the filibuster wouldn't quite the problem that it has become if it actually still used the "old" rules associated with a filibuster." Or if the minority party didn't decide that it would not allow the majority party to pass anything, making the filibuster the de facto SOP.
Gary Cohen (Great Neck NY)
Republicans resist any Federal government action until those red states need disaster aid. Most of these red states receive more Federal money per capita than blue states. Wheat her the filibuster ends the real answers term limits. Twelve years in either branch is more than enough.
Louie Bee (Lenoir City, TN)
@Gary Cohen I would add that 20 years for a Supreme Court Justice would be a good term limit because an old generation has died off and a new generation has been born.
617to416 (Ontario via Massachusetts)
Let's quote a Founder, Alexander Hamilton, in Federalist 22: "The necessity of unanimity in public bodies, or of something approaching towards it, has been founded upon a supposition that it would contribute to security. But its real operation is to embarrass the administration, to destroy the energy of the government, and to substitute the pleasure, caprice, or artifices of an insignificant, turbulent, or corrupt junto, to the regular deliberations and decisions of a respectable majority...The public business must, in some way or other, go forward. If a pertinacious minority can control the opinion of a majority, respecting the best mode of conducting it, the majority, in order that something may be done, must conform to the views of the minority; and thus the sense of the smaller number will overrule that of the greater, and give a tone to the national proceedings. Hence, tedious delays; continual negotiation and intrigue; contemptible compromises of the public good. And yet, in such a system, it is even happy when such compromises can take place: for upon some occasions things will not admit of accommodation; and then the measures of government must be injuriously suspended, or fatally defeated. It is often, by the impracticability of obtaining the concurrence of the necessary number of votes, kept in a state of inaction. Its situation must always savor of weakness, sometimes border upon anarchy." Describes the modern Senate perfectly. It's not what Hamilton wanted.
ilma2045 (Sydney)
@617to416 // Good quote. Commonse4nse then, and now.
Consider A Nice Or Having (UWS)
Our Founding Fathers were smart dudes… Is there anyone in Congress who could write with the clarity and erudition of Hamilton? …It is a pleasure to read the Federalist Papers…
Mason Sills (CO)
Here’s why we need the filibuster. What the author calls “voting rights” is an issue of assuring voter integrity to others. What he calls “immigration reform” is an issue of dealing with open borders to most of the country. Paying one’s “ fair share” translates to confiscatory taxation. Green New Deal? A massive and poorly thought out government plan to subsidize corporations. There are lots of catchy slogans which don’t capture the essence of the issues, and the author dismisses the possibility that his views may be incorrect. So when Dems control the government by the slimmest of margins and Republican views are dismissed, the filibuster is a necessity.
JHarrison (Boston)
@Mason Sills 100% correct. The author also fails to envisage a time when the other party is in power and ready to enact their legislation. The fillibuster may be the most important tool for keeping the government balanced.
Pitchforks: check Torches: check (Fl)
@JHarrison We know what happens when " the other party is in power". Tax cuts for the rich. If they do that the rich give them enough money to sell lies to their voters for reelection.
617to416 (Ontario via Massachusetts)
@Mason Sills This is an argument against democratic government. Democratic governments exist to do things the broad mass of the people want done. Of course there will always be disagreements, but in the end, for democratic government to work, some majority must prevail and be able to implement its desired policies. Otherwise, little or nothing can be done, and the people's will will languish unfulfilled, discontent will grow, and the danger will increase of an authoritarian populist arising who offers easy solutions to the problem of the failed democracy. Yes, there are risks that a democratic majority may do something unfair to a minority or that some minority will be unhappy with what the majority does. But no government is perfect. Democracy, I'm convinced, is still the best there is.
lin (mdi)
The Founders were men of the Enlightenment who embraced the idea that we establish the provisional truths of the rule of law, much as we do the provisional truths of science - by arriving at consensus through the reasoned debate of empirical evidence and by making progress through revision and amendment. Republican racist gerrymandering, voter suppression, and the filibuster undermine the foundations of representative government. Republican religiosity introduces irrationality and absolutism to making and upholding the law. Repairing the abuses of the Reagan revolution - recognizing the dangers of racist right wing religious extremism - is not rejecting bipartisanship. It is an attempt to return to the agreed legal framework of the Constitution - from which Republicans have unilaterally withdrawn.
JHarrison (Boston)
@lin All your opinion and not shared by most in the country. Reagan, after all, handily won reelection. We need the fillibuster to protect the country from people, of either party, who wish to shove their opinions and misguided policies down our throats.
Peter (Austin, TX)
@JHarrison You mean things like civil rights legislation? Heaven forbid we have equality. The filibuster is designed to allow anti-racism bills to fail and corporations prevent issues like Medicare for all to pass. It is not democratic in any sense.
Mack (Los Angeles)
The filibuster is not so much the problem as the passive-aggressive President and disconnected leaders in the House and Senate. The well-intentioned President Biden comes to the White House without a smidgen of executive leadership or any experience in leading transformations. His staff, by and large, is experienced in managing the status quo. Speaker Pelosi and Leader Schumer are caricatures of legislative leaders unable to connect with or influence most of our population— including those misguided blue collar and rural Trumpians who have most to gain from Biden’s policy proposals. The Biden Administration needs to do two things: cut off the head of Trumpism and put real jobs and money into every county. On the first score, substantially more evidence exists to charge and convict Trump of RICO and RICO conspiracy than to prosecute R. Kelly. The statute was drafted specifically to reach people like Trump who controlled and directed associations-in-fact through intermediaries. I know at least a dozen former federal prosecutors who could sleepwalk through this. Just as importantly, get people working: prioritize shovel-ready stuff and projects with jobs that don’t require PhD’s or software skills. Do deferred maintenance and life extensions while new solutions are defined, designed, and contracted. President Biden should ask Bob Caro “What would LBJ do?”
stan continople (brooklyn)
@Mack Biden fails to make his case at every opportunity so we continue to go without any actual pubic debate on the issues which plague us. By design, both parties talk right past each other, to their respective constituencies, through their respective outlets, because they're afraid of losing the argument, but more importantly, losing their funding. One area tax fairness, essential to the Democrat's agenda, is also the one issue upon which most Americans agree; the wealthy and corporations should be taxed at a higher level. However, we never hear Biden or most Democrats, save for Sanders and Warren ever raise the issue, and none of them ever take the war to the GOP's doorstep. Why can't one GOP senator be forced to publicly make the case for their plutocratic friends? The silence by both sides is deafening, so you really have to wonder how sincere most Democrats actually are on the topic.
John Chastain (Michigan (the heart of the Great Lakes))
@stan continople most Democrats are not "sincere" on the topic of tax fairness and never have been. In fact two predominant democrats Hillery Clinton and President Obama are both well connected to the financial actors (in my view predators) that are opponents of reforming the tax code and ending the gaming of it for fun and profit. There are numerous examples of the truth of my contention, you can find them here in the NYT, within the reporting of ProPublica and elsewhere. After all its not as if they are hiding it very well. Then there's current President Biden and his buddies within the financial community, you know the ones, he told them not to worry about his election causing them any undo hardship. There are other examples within the Democratic leadership of collusion with the same financial predators scamming the system, engaging in rent seeking and wealth hording and profiting off the work of the rest of us. And that's just the Democrats, then you have the republicans whose corrupt collusion with wealth makes even Clinton and company look like pikers in comparison. The silence on both sides is deafening because they want it to be, Democrats may be better but its a low bar they cross, barely a tiptoe.
Stephen Csiszar (Carthage NC)
@Mack Yes to all this. Willful fecklessness. Learned timidity. This should be the top comment.
Des Johnson (Forest Hills NY)
The filibuster is a symptom. It not only protects the minority, it establishes the tyranny of the minority. And that is why the filibuster evolved--to protect Dixie and friends. Remember, in Obama's years, McConnell ran more filibusters than had been run in all of previous history. The slave-dependent South failed on the battle field. But they won across America and in Congress. The Senate has never been in real agreement except in the sharing of pork. The biggest cookie jar in the world is the Pentagon budget. (Where are Forts located, millions to be housed, fed, clothed, and treated? How are arms manufacturers distributed across America?) It's as if the USA is held together by that budget. Senators have a tiger by the tail, and don't know how to let go. Some don’t want to let go, because they’re living high on the hog. And senators may as well re-write the pledge of allegiance; "I pledge allegiance to the Pentagon and to the budget on which it stands."
Louie Bee (Lenoir City, TN)
@Des Johnson Good point Des. In some cases the Republicans have given the Pentagon more money than they have requested.
ronjoan (Virgin islands)
@Des Johnson While the Pentagon grows without bounds, Putin is able to attack the US with computers and hackers, without mounting an army and supplied with materiel, at a greatly reduced cost.
Des Johnson (Forest Hills NY)
@Jackson: Not true.
RestonD (Reston VA)
As a Black man, Bouie must be aware that pure democracy without respect for minority views is a recipe for disaster. The infrastructure bill does, in fact, show that bipartisan agreements can produce good policy. Sadly, this early prospect of bipartisanship and deliberation - with real debate instead of base-pandering - draws the most extreme partisans out of the woodwork to try to restore the gridlock and posturing of recent years.
John (Lubbock)
@RestonD Boule isn’t arguing for pure democracy. He’s arguing for a fair and equitable democracy, which current procedures and voting laws prevent.
Carol (Raleigh)
All true, but there's nothing we can do about it. The filibuster isn't going away (Manchin and Sinema are seeing to that). So, what are our options? I'm not sure. Maybe cajole, persuade difficult senators to reform filibuster? Work on a second human infrastructure/climate bill that can pass the Senate AND the House? Keep trying on voting rights bill? Keep confronting Republicans who refuse to do what's right? Keep building support for Biden agenda with American people--so much so that they start calling their representatives and demanding change? It's all really hard, but we cannot give up. We must have hope. This pending infrastructure vote, after all, wasn't a given. It's taken extraordinary heavy lifting to get it to the finish line. We have to keep lifting.That's all we've got left.
Jonathan (USA)
Why is Mr. Boule being so negative about legislation that addresses so many essentials? Just an observation, Mr. Boule: The longer you put off periodic maintenance, and necessary work, the more it's going to cost when you ultimately fix the problems. New York City found that out when they adopted a policy of not performing maintenance on their transit system. And an automobile owner who waits for a total breakdown and then whines about the repair cost deserves no sympathy. Ah, well, there are always going to be people who wait until the pipes burst or the roof leaks, and then cry about how much fixing the problem will cost.
Marco Polo (Australia)
@Jonathan I think a subtle, unspoken jab here is that this "infrastructure" bill is too small and too late. Without the need to be filibuster-proof, a much larger bill addressing the true size of the needs would have passed with more than a few Rs voting for it. Instead we get a minimalist bill that looks to me to be less than a quarter of what is needed given the time span for the allotments.
KG (California)
Be very careful what you wish for. How will the lack of the filibuster look for you when the GOP is back in control of the Senate? That could happen in next year's midterms. Whoever is running the government will write the agenda. If they control the White House and both houses of Congress, they will pass it, too. Remember this editorial as the "checks and balances" of our government's executive edicts and lopsided legislative antics disappear from the process ---- especially when a future mandate may not line up with your view of the world or personal freedoms. Remember what you fought for. It will be too late to have selective memory as that is inherent in all advocates. Kill filibuster, make new states, pack court, expansive voting rights. It can all be done if they want. Or the exact opposite if the GOP returns to power which is likely. In politics, the pendulum swings both ways. Zealots get impaled on their short-sightedness. Sen Biden as the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary implemented the "Biden Rule". This bit the Dems when Obama nominated Merrick Garland & the Republican Senate followed the Biden Rule. Sen Reid triggered the nuclear option to change Senate rules to prevent the minority party from contesting votes that the majority had in the bag. This hurt the Democrats years later with Trump's divisive judicial appointments. Now the Dems want to eliminate the Senate filibuster. How will that fair in 2022 when the Senate has a GOP majority again? This will backfire.
A.B. Moses (Westwood, NJ)
@KG And right there is the generic problem with the Democratic playbook: "Now that the electorate gave us the majority, we can't really use our power. I mean what if, someday, we're not the majority anymore?" I want you to try and imagine those words, coming out of Mitch McConnell. Or any Republican, for that matter.
sal (phila)
@A.B. Moses totally agree with you. Republicans would definitely abolish the filibuster, even with a one vote majority
RMS (Near Los Angeles)
@KG Dems are more likely to lose the majority if they don't ditch the filibuster and work on fulfilling their agenda. So there's that.
Sera (The Village)
Why are we still discussing the filibuster? It's a bi-partisan football, used by both parties whenever it suits them. To argue this bizarre, non democratic, glitch in procedure makes far less sense than arguing the archaic, and tortured 2nd amendment. Any sane country would get rid of both. Trump came in vowing to get rid of Obamacarre. But he didn't. Nor did he build his wall, or do much else except light a match to the planet, and flames with dangerous rhetoric. To ensure that real change remains just out of reach, we're now faced with two DINO's who are charged with keeping this roadblock to democracy in place. Clearly, both sides like the filibuster, and it underscores the tiny functional difference between them. Lots of noise, little result. In "Mr. Smith Goes To Washington" Jimmy Stewart employed the filibuster to ensure freedom and democracy, not make a mockery of it. Back then democracy was still a living dream, although maybe it only ever existed at 24 frames per second. Eight years from now, when once again excuses for getting nothing done are being dreamed up, people will blame the filibuster, and the intransigence of 'the other guys'. And the filibuster will once again have done its job.
Joshua Schwartz (Ramat Gan)
"Which is to say that far from undermining filibuster reform, the pending infrastructure bill only underscores the need to free the Senate from the shackle of the supermajority." Just the supermajority, Mr. Bouie? From what you describe the entire system needs to be revamped. Imagine trying to run a company in the manner described above. It should be remembered that any government body is usually not the equivalent of a townhall popular meeting and vote. One elects representatives and expects them to represent their interests, even if the voter does not "understand" their interests.
RMS (Near Los Angeles)
@Joshua Schwartz Except many times the legislators vote, not for what they think the voters want, or even for what they think the voters "should" want, but for what their donors want. http://ftp.iza.org/dp11945.pdf
Joshua Schwartz (Ramat Gan)
@RMS And even that should be factored into the game as voters know that there are donors and that they have influence.
bsb (ny)
"Which is to say that far from undermining filibuster reform, the pending infrastructure bill only underscores the need to free the Senate from the shackle of the supermajority." Unfortunately, the problem is not filibuster reform, but, rather entitlements and "pork". Our elected politicians are way more concerned with what is good for them, rather than what is good for their constituents and the electorate, as a whole. If we take away their benefits for life, like healthcare, pensions, and so much more, perhaps their priorities will change Their concerns, unfortunately, have nothing to do with improving the lives of the majority, and, everything to do with their own longevity within the political machine. So, before you address the filibuster, perhaps we should be more concerned with their own privilege. If we, the citizens voted to treat them as equals, and, take away those free entitlements, which insulates them, unlike that the majority of Americans, perhaps we will see less partisanship, and more compromise. After all, they are supposed to be working and representing us, the electorate.
Jonathan (USA)
@bsb It's popular among the anti-government crowd to accuse politicians of distributing 'pork' whenever they pass a law that involves spending money, no matter what the purpose, the urgency and the effect. Just for once, couldn't we address bills based on their merits?
Blackmamba (IL)
American infrastructure was and still is deeply rooted and primarily built by enslaved Black African men, women and children working on lands and using natural resources stolen from multiple brown Indigenous men,women and children nations. On the eve the Civil War the 4 million enslaved Black African men, women and children in a nation of 30 million were worth more than all of the other capital assets in America combined. Except for the land. While the Senate is ' working' precisely as intended by the white Anglo-Saxon Protestant Founding Fathers. Under the original Constitution Senators were elected by a majority vote of the state legislatures. The Constitution of our Republic was amended to allow popular vote elections of Senators. Because every state has two Senators regardless of population the Senate is the antithesis of democracy. When a half million people in Wyoming have as much power in the Senate as 39.5 million Californians the charade circus is exposed.
just ben (Rosarito, baja California, México)
As usual, your discussion and analysis are excellent. Your proposed solution though is only "half a loaf." What America needs to do is not merely eliminate the filibuster. It needs to eliminate the Senate altogether.
Jerry's Dad (New Haven, CT)
Your argument for ending the filibuster is spot on, Mr. Bouie. The only reason the "smaller" infrastructure bill is likely to pass is because it has broad support. Even Sen. McConnell agreed to cloture, because he felt that "infrastructure" is a "function of government". And the only reason they'll be any action on climate change is due to the proposed larger, "human" infrastructure bill. But that one will likely garner only D votes through "reconciliation". No Rs will sign on. Strong partisan divides still remain on the crucial voting rights reform bills, and other important issues of public concern like immigration, and gun reform. These will go absolutely nowhere, however, because of the filibuster. The Ds will never get 60 votes for cloture. It might as well be 70 or 80 votes. It won't matter. And the Ds are not very concerned the Rs will likely again abandon the filibuster when it suits them, as they did with Mr. McConnell's quest to stack SCOTUS with 3 right-wing jurists, appointed for life. Even worse, the Ds have allowed themselves to be hog tied by the considerations of two particularly obstinate senators on quashing the filibuster. They persist at the same time GOP-led state legislators are fully eviscerating voting rights across the land. If the Ds don't step up, and step up very soon, they'll find themselves, once again, outmaneuvered by the likes of the good Kentucky senator. He won't hesitate to toss the filibuster when it suits him just fine.
Caesius (LINY)
While I support this bill...any infrastructure bill is better than none....one thing not being discussed. Are there funds available to mitigate the losses businesses near the work sites will sufffer? You start tearing up roads, shutting down lanes and redirecting traffic on main thoroughfares, local businesses will suffer. It happens all the time under normal projects, but if they get ramped up, increase in numbers, and depth of the projects - we will see businesses. maybe still recovering from Covid shutdowns, take serious financial hits. Will local and state authorities prepare for these? I doubt it.
Ted N (Chicago)
This is a thorny issue but at the end of the day the filibuster is an important tool to reach some type of consensus even if it has to be forced. The last thing this country needs is pure majoritarianism. Our founding fathers understood this extremely well. Thank goodness they did. Today most of the outcry comes from the left as they feel their ability to enact significant change is being trampled on by the right. I remember a time when the situation was reversed. I wonder if today's progressives would be singing from the same hymnal if they were the minority party, I think not. Reaching true consensus is extremely difficult, that's why we see so much horse trading. Compromise and consensus are not the same thing and that's why we have so much mediocre legislation coming out of Congress lately. The filibuster needs to remain in Congress' tool kit. As an independent voter I am tired of having to choose between ideologues on the right and left. The filibuster helps keep the pendulum too far in either direction.
John (Lubbock)
@Ted N Many other legislative bodies do just fine ensuring extreme positions are minimized through simple majority votes and no filibuster. The problem isn’t the filibuster: it’s two political parties (one of which has no desire to actually govern), gerrymandered districts, and a cap on House numbers. All these lead to minority rule.
Peter (Austin, TX)
@Ted N The founding fathers didn't implement afilibuster. It's a tool designed to shut down anti-racist legislation. Now it's a tool that lets big money prevent popular initiatives.
Richard (Spain)
Bipartisanship on infrastructure is indeed a low bar. Even then I suspect that R support is a veiled attempt to derail the Ds upcoming $3.5 trillion social spending proposal. And, by the way, Republicans jump at the chance to tout a few Covid relief bills, where Dems offered overwhelming support, as a sign of "their" bipartisanship. What a laugh! Finally, where does the Constitution prescribe a Senate supermajority? The founding fathers? The argument that a subsequent Congress will just reverse course on partisan legislation doesn't hold much water for me. At least there would be a chance for forward movement.
Mike Livingston (Philadelphia PA)
A reasonable analysis. But the whole point of the system is to make rash actions more difficult. If the author wants to change that fact, he needs to look at the whole system and not just those parts he dislikes.
Rick (New Jersey)
@Mike Livingston The whole point of our bicameral legislature, as ORIGINALLY constructed, was to make rash action more difficult. The filibuster, by contrast, was created to ensure white supremacy in the south. Today, it is working to reimpose Jim Crow. And if you have concerns about “the whole system,” bear in mind that the population of New York CITY alone matches that of 7 other states combined. That’s 14 senators, all of whom are far right conservatives or (2) right leaning democrats, all of whom are opposed to any meaningful reform of the “whole system” or any part of it And yet, we somehow need a filibuster on top of that? The filibuster it not remotely what the founders wanted and is the antithesis of democracy.
cherrylog754 (Atlanta,GA)
Years, decades ago, the filibuster had a place in the Senate, it was not aĺ that difficult to get to a 60 vote threshold. Senators on both sides of the aisle were more willing to compromise, it's how Medicare and Medicaid became law in the 60's. Today many, most are Republicans, have a case of lock-jaw. Can't seem to vote the way their gut tells them for fear of reprisal from some hard core constituents or that person in Mar a Largo. Don't see any improvement in the future either, so we'll all suffer the consequences of climate change, inequality, education reform, etc.
Caesius (LINY)
cherrylo...and medicaid and medicare was seen as mostly a white benefit. the filibuster was initially and specifically weaponized for racial issues. its really simple. thats its main tradition. And now its just purely a partisan weapon.
JohnK (Durham)
@cherrylog754 There were more than 60 Democrat senators through most of the 1960's. The mechanics of the filibuster were also different. You don't have to go to the Senate floor and read the Bible to sustain a filibuster today.
Rocking Hammer (Washington DC)
In the60s, the filibuster rule required Senators to take the floor and keep talking. Then in the mid 70s, the rule was changed to the current rule, which is the cause of the current dysfunction. Time to change the rule back to the old rule.
Sapman (Cbus)
When you can find 10 Republican senators willing to put their “noses to the grindstone” to protect democracy and the voting rights of all Americans, then you can crow about how great the filibuster is.
Andrew (Chicago)
@Sapman I agree. If the Senate can't even protect its own existence after being chased out by an armed mob, it truly is a nearly useless institution. I'm not sure if the Senate was ever the world's greatest deliberative body, but now it's safe to say it's one of the worst.
sal (phila)
@Sapman Also, the filibuster wuill be abolished 10 minutes after the Republicans have a majority.Bet on it
Jay (New York)
Good luck finding one.