(Note: I’m not an expert on politics, so forgive me if I make errors of fact in the following.)
In the American Senate, a filibuster is a tactic used to prevent legislation from coming to a vote. It stems from the Senate tradition of allowing unlimited debate on any such measure. That means that a single Senator, if he or she wishes to speak indefinitely, can postpone a vote.
Filibusters were often used in the Fifties and Sixties to prevent Civil Rights legislation. The longest such monologue was by Senator Strom Thurmond, who in 1953 spoke for 24 hours and 18 minutes protesting the Civil Rights Bill of 1957, though he ultimately lost.
At that time, a two-thirds majority vote was required for “cloture”, or ending the debate. In 1975, the cloture requirement was reduced to three-fifths, so that now 60 Senators must vote to end debate.
But they need no longer monologue, since there is in effect a “virtual filibuster” in which a filibuster can be declared without any Senator having to speak. Thus, to get significant legislation through Congress, 60 Senators must vote to end a virtual filibuster (after that, a simple majority will suffice to pass legislation). The exceptions are confirmation of nominations, as in Supreme Court justices, as well as national emergencies, declarations of war, or time-limited measures like “budget reconciliation“.
Finally, it still requires a two-thirds majority of the Senate, or 67 votes, to end the procedure of filibustering for good; that majority is required to end all Senate rules. Doing this for filibusters is called the “nuclear option”.
As it stands, then, the Republicans have a weapon to prevent significant legislation from Democrats from being passed.
Now Senate Democrat Joe Manchin (West Virginia), the most conservative party member in that chamber, has written an op-ed in The Washington Post saying he will not “eliminate or weaken the filibuster” (click on screenshot to read, and see the Post’s analysis here).
What this means in effect is that Manchin will not vote with the Democratic majority to use the “budget reconciliation” process to bypass the filibuster (this has already been done for Biden’s spending proposal this year), nor will he vote to end a virtual filibuster. He is joined in this declaration by Democratic Senator Kyrsten Sinema (Arizona).
Progressive Democrats, and even more centrist ones, are in favor of voting to eliminate the filibuster. (I don’t see how that will happen given that the elimination requires 67 votes.) But they can bypass the filibuster using “budget reconciliation,” though the Senate Parliamentarian could nix that. But in the absence of this reform, the Senate will be deadlocked on major legislation.
This is a long-winded introduction to a discussion thread: do you favor eliminating the filibuster? Manchin’s rationale is that we need bipartisan support for major legislative changes, and we can’t get that if a simple majority vote is all that’s required. But of course the Republicans are largely intransigent about bipartisanship, and Biden, who swore to “reach across the aisle,” has now recognized that, and is reconciled to 50/50 splits broken by Kamala Harris.
Is it time to eliminate the filibuster? Remember, if you say “yes,” and then the Republicans gain control of the Senate, which may well happen in a few years, then no Democratic legislation could be passed, even by a simple majority vote. (The only reason this could happen now is that Kamala Harris can vote to break a 50/50 tie.)
Weigh in below.