America Needs Change – The Filibuster Stands in the Way


Photo courtesy Vox

After Democrats won both Georgia runoffs and took control of the Senate, many people hoped they would pass legislation that has been on their agenda for years. However, a provision in the Senate, known as the filibuster, allows any Senator to stall a vote. It changes the requirement for the legislation to pass  to 60 votes from 51, which would require ten Republicans to flip. While this may seem reasonable, our government has become so polarized that even Biden’s stimulus plan passed without a single Republican vote, despite over 70% of Americans supporting it (Huffington Post). Democrats were forced to resort to budget reconciliation, the one mechanism in place that can escape the filibuster. This is only useful for budget-related issues., In order for Democrats to tackle important issues such as climate change, immigration, and healthcare, the filibuster must be removed. 

Proponents of the filibuster argue that it both prevents tyranny in the Senate and prolongs the floor debates, which is the rationale given by Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, the two most conservative Democrats. There is very little evidence for these arguments. Firstly, it is impossible to get 60 votes through bipartisan compromise and that doesn’t change anything about the coalition needed to pass legislation. Instead of deliberating and passing laws, the Senate instead holds up legislation that inevitably dies in the chamber. Republicans have even been able to filibuster popular legislation such as universal background checks and a minimum wage increase that should have been passed years ago. Also, while Republicans believe that floor debates can increase bipartisanship, most politicians have already made up their minds and they are only used to waste time. According to the Washington Post, more than 500 bills passed by the House of Representatives since 2018 have failed in the senate. Our government was founded on the promise of passing bills and improving people’s lives, but this continues to be hindered by the filibuster. 

Even the founding fathers of our country hated the idea. Alexander Hamilton discussed a supermajority in the Federalist Papers, where he wrote “What at first sight may seem a remedy, is, in reality, a poison … to embarrass the administration, to destroy the energy of the government.” It didn’t emerge until 1837, where it was created in order to bolster white supremacy and protect slave owners. Southern states didn’t want northerners to emancipate the slaves if they took control of Congress, so John Calhoun created the filibuster in order to protect the oppressors. This usage continues today. For example, the filibuster was used to block H.R. 1, a voting rights bill passed by the House that would stop the voter suppression that we are seeing right now in Georgia. 

If we want to take advantage of the blue trifecta that controls our government, the only way we can break away from the status quo is abolishing this practice once and for all.