Democrats may control the White House and both chambers of Congress, but there’s still one thing standing in their way: the Senate filibuster. While the Senate was originally designed to run by simple majority rule, over the past few decades the filibuster has made it so the majority of legislation requires a 60-vote “supermajority” to pass — something that’s next to impossible to accomplish with a 50-50 split between Democrats and Republicans. Adam Jentleson, author of “Kill Switch: The Rise of the Modern Senate and the Crippling of American Democracy,” explains why it may be time to get rid of the filibuster altogether.
- I want to get to the filibuster now.
- Get rid of the filibuster.
- The filibuster.
- The filibuster.
- The legislative filibuster.
- The standoff over the filibuster.
ADAM JENTLESON: A filibuster is any effort to block or delay a piece of legislation that otherwise would pass with majority support. The Senate was created as a majority rule institution. It existed that way for the first 200 years of its existence. And it's only in recent decades, the filibuster has become something that is capable of forcing bills to secure not just a majority support, but a super majority support, which today is 60 votes.
- Do you like green eggs and ham?
ADAM JENTLESON: When you have a narrowly split Senate that's 50/50, that means you need 10 Republican votes to pass anything. The simple fact of the matter is you're just not going to get those 10 Republican votes on almost anything. You see that happening right now.
We have a pandemic raging in this country, and you can't find 10 Republicans who will vote for Biden's pandemic relief package, which is, you know, essentially a package of exactly what economists say we need to help the economy when health experts say we need to help the pandemic. If you can't get 10 Republican votes on that, you're not going to get at anything.
- How would reconciliation work with the relief bill, specifically?
- The Senate prepares to possibly approve a bill using what's known as reconciliation.
ADAM JENTLESON: Reconciliation is a special process that was created in the 1970s to make it easy for the Senate to pass a budget. In order to make it easy to do so, they created this special track that we now call reconciliation that said anything that's related to the budget will be allowed to pass and will be immune from any kind of filibuster.
So that's what Democrats are doing today. President Biden's COVID aid package, or at least most of that, will probably end up complying with these restrictive rules that limit what could use this special track. But there are certain kinds of things, entire categories of legislation that will never have any hope of complying, things like civil rights, efforts to combat voter suppression, statehood for DC and Puerto Rico, many climate change solutions, gun control, entire large categories of issues that are very important to progressive Democrats will never meet that primary purpose test of primarily being related to the budget.
So Democrats will use reconciliation initially as sort of a stopgap to pass certain batch of things quickly. But at the end of that process, they will be left with the fact that are-- there's this enormous amount of other priorities that cannot ever pass through reconciliation and will be blocked by the filibuster if Democrats don't reform it.
In order to do this, I think that it's necessary to return the Senate to a majority vote institution, as it was for the first 200 plus years of its existence. This is simply how I think government should work. And I think it's how a lot of people think government should work.
You run on certain campaign promises. You explain to the public what policy changes you want to make if you gain power, and then you put those policy changes into effect. And if people like them, they can return you to office. And if they don't like them, they can vote for the other guy.