• Khasir Doward

The Senate Filibuster

The Senate filibuster is a mechanism a senator may utilize to stop a bill from being passed by giving a speech on the Senate floor and refusing to relinquish the floor, right? Wrong. Perhaps two hundred years ago, this was how a filibuster worked, but not anymore. The senators and house representatives of the 19th century may have filibustered this way, but the senators of the current day do not need to grace the floor with their presence. At one point, the filibuster was used to prevent a bill from being passed by talking it to death. Now, it is used to stall the Senate without effort. The minority must simply threaten to filibuster, and the bill is set to the side so that they can argue about it. The minority party gets to decide what the Senate can vote or debate on when they have no attributed power.

The Legislative Filibuster is the way of today; the threat of a filibuster is all that is needed to stop a bill from moving forward. One perk to the legislative filibuster is that it allows other bills to be introduced, debated, and passed. If the party introducing the bill wants to move past the filibuster, they have to gather 60 votes for a cloture motion. In today's political climate, the two parties are highly polarized on the top issues of today. Democrats will not be able to push through their agenda without the help of 10 Republican senators. While Democrats may be able to get senators, such as Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, and Mitt Romney, as they are the three most moderate Republicans, to their side with a less progressive policy, they will need to make significant downgrades to get the remainder of the needed votes.

So, why don't they end it? It is not that simple. When Democrats won the majority of the Senate, they needed to create a power-sharing agreement with the Republican party because of the existing tie. The Democratic party may want to strip the filibuster to get their priority agenda passed; however, the Republican party wants to keep it to prevent the same from happening.

There have been some proposed compromises to the situation. One such compromise is to bring back the talking filibuster. Remember, the legislative filibuster saw a rise during the 1970s; initially, a senator would have to stand on the floor and talk non-stop. As soon as the senator sat down, or left the senate floor, the filibuster was over. Some proponents of this change include President Joe Biden, a senator from Delaware of 36 years, and Angus King, an independent senator from Maine on his second term. A talking filibuster is not as easy as simply saying, “we are going to filibuster”. Again, a senator would need to be recognized and speak for hours without a break. For perspective, Senator Strom Thurmond holds the record for the longest filibuster at 24 hours and 18 minutes. After an entire day and night of filibustering, the bill still passed two hours later. A speaking filibuster would definitely be less enticing, not only because of the speaking part but also because no other legislation can be passed or debated while the senator is speaking. Instead of stalling one bill, all bills would be stalled. There would also be a reliance on one senator being able to speak for so long, and having something to speak about at that.

Here is the thing: as crucial to the democratic process and the rights of the minority the filibuster may be, let us be honest. Its only purpose is to stop a bill the minority does not like from being passed. If no efforts are made on the minority side to make an actual compromise, then the bill is strangled. As said before, the Republican party is in the minority. In June, the For the People Act was brought to the Senate floor. The Republican party filibustered the bill. Now what? How do Democrats move from here? They do not. They cannot. Democrats do not have enough votes to overcome a filibuster. A desperately needed bill now cannot be passed because the Republican party does not believe everyone should be able to vote without hassle.

Per the summary provided by its writers, the For the People Act would expand voter registration and voter access. It would limit a state's ability to remove voters from voter rolls. The bill would expand pre-registration, same-day registration and even allow 16-17-year olds to pre-register. The bill would prohibit voter caging and restrict purging voter rolls. The bill overall protects American voters' right to vote, guaranteeing enough time to do so, the ability to do so, and deterring and punishing anyone who would hinder the ability to do so. It makes voting easy. This act also provides for election security, prohibits gerrymandering by creating 15 neutral member commissions, reforms campaign finance, and provides ethics rules.

Why would anyone be opposed to the aforementioned? After the presidential election in 2020, the Republican party introduced over 389 bills restricting access to the polls in 48 states. This was the reaction to the increase of Democratic senators and the election of Joe Biden as President. In other words, they lost and therefore sought to change the rules in an attempt to prevent it from happening again. Children do that. When little kids play games, they continuously change the rules and make new ones to keep from getting out. Apparently, no one told Republicans that this kind of behavior was meant to end after they turned twelve. To stay in power, Republicans have resorted to restricting the access of voters to the ballots. The For the People Act goes entirely against everything the Republican party does to stay in power. Nevertheless, the question must be asked: if Republicans rely on restricting voter access, gerrymandering, acting in secret, and doing unethical things to stay in power, then should they have that power?

God forbid the Senate passes a bill restricting access to guns because that would be an infringement against the second amendment, which the Republican party keeps so dear. However, the fifteenth amendment says the right to vote shall not be abridged or denied, and the Republican party attempted to pass 400 bills that would do the same. A right to own a weapon that kills and seriously injures others is a right the republican party supports unyieldingly, yet the right to vote for government leaders must be curtailed. Again, we must ask ourselves, should the GOP maintain the power it has and wishes to keep?

The Republican party has no interest in negotiating the people act, nor any Democratic act of the future, and they only wish to use the filibuster to stop said bills from becoming law. The filibuster, which the minority leader Mitch McConnell fought to keep, is only used to stall progress. The filibuster has to go if Democrats are to make any progress; if not completely, then it must be reformed. The Senate cannot continue to be strangled by the iron fist of the Republican party, a fist which the American people took away. Democrats, by being completely unable to get themselves together, gave it back. Filibustering is an easy way for Republicans to stop bills they do not like from being passed; they no longer have to work to make progress or stop progress. It is as easy as saying we are going to filibuster. Now no bill can pass without the threat of the filibuster. A senate rule that has no bearing in our constitution now halts the democratic process created by the constitution.

Moreover, Democrats can do nothing to stop it because two of their members are against ending the filibuster. Senators Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin lie in the way of progress. They continue to stand in the way of ending the filibuster, with their only solution being: make narrower bipartisan changes.

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