The sky is falling, today’s version, is brought to you by Joe Manchin, Democrat from West Virginia, who betrayed his party by refusing to support the elimination of the filibuster. Some may see Manchin as the only adult in the Senate. Others may not.
— The Hill (@thehill) June 7, 2021
Still others contend that Manchin is living in fantasyland, where the Republicans are untrustworthy scum willing to do anything to stymie the Democratic agenda of Utopia and he’s playing right into their hands.
Manchin’s decision is a catastrophe not just for this particular bill, though he has almost certainly doomed the legislation. A senior administration official told me Monday that “none of this is a surprise to those who have heard Manchin’s views” and that the White House will continue working to “make progress notwithstanding the difficult challenges in front of us, including a 50-vote Senate.” But thanks to Manchin’s decision, Biden doesn’t even have a 50-vote Senate for what many Democrats see as an existential fight against the GOP’s attempt to gain and keep power through voter suppression. The 49 Senate votes left after Manchin’s defection will take Biden and the Democrats precisely nowhere.
There is certainly a practical point here, that his colleagues across the aisle haven’t exactly been open to compromise and putting country above party either, with some exception in some circumstances. But then, somebody has to be willing to be the grown up in the room, and the whisper is that Manchin has the support of some Dems who share his misgivings about the wisdom of some of these progressive reimaginations put forth by Biden, but are just as happy to let Manchin take the heat.
But even if Manchin gave the Dems that needed 50th vote to bring the Senate to a tie to be broken by someone with experience breaking things, Kamala Harris, the Reps would still have the Senate trick of the filibuster. Whether it’s too easily and painlessly invoked is one question. Whether it should exist at all is another.
The rule of thumb is simple:
The party holding the majority: The filibuster is bad.
The party in the minority: The filibuster is good.
How do we know this with absolute certainty?
When the Senate voted in January 2011 on what was then considered an outlandish proposal to allow a simple majority of senators to break filibusters, only a dozen Democrats backed the plan, which went down in a flamingly lopsided vote.
A decade on, the vast majority of Senate Democrats have come around to the view that the filibuster rules — which require a supermajority of 60 votes to bring legislation to a final vote — are antiquated and unworkable, and have become the primary obstacle to meaningful policy changes that enjoy broad support.
What changed between 2011 and 2021? The head on the corpse.
The arguments for and against the filibuster are well known to both parties, as both have made the argument when it’s in their self interest. When a party controls the House, Senate and presidency, they can enact any law they please without a filibuster. Ordinarily, the limiting factor would be public support, so if they do something too radical, they will be voted out for their craziness. But given the current state of political polarization, and general disinterest in the nuts and bolts of laws and the media’s dedicated interest in spinning laws to reflect “moral clarity,” the Dems feel little constraint.
The filibuster serves to blunt the tyranny of the majority, that a simple majority of senators can enact change that essentially half the country finds unacceptable, maybe even abhorrent, and thus limits radical change to that which can muster some level of support from across the aisle. But the same polarization makes reasonable support for change essentially impossible. The Reps aren’t all that willing to compromise for the sake of the nation either, Senator Tim Scott notwithstanding.
So good or evil, is it time for the filibuster to go? Is the aspiration that senators of intelligence and good will can put the interests of our nation ahead of their petty political interests so archaic that the dream of bipartisanship is a fantasy? If so, and nothing short of a party holding a sufficient majority in the Senate will be enough to get change enacted, does the filibuster stifle the will of the majority or protect the minority from radical change?
*Tuesday Talk rules apply.