Last week, United States Senator Kyrsten Sinema expressed continuing support for the filibuster, arguing that”it is a tool that protects the democracy of our nation” and prevents our nation from”[ricocheting] wildly every two to four years back and forth between policies.” Then, over the weekend, Joe Manchin echoed a similar sentiment, writing that Democrats have”attempted to demonize the filibuster and conveniently ignore how it has been critical to protecting the rights of Democrats in the past.”
Sinema and Manchin have been rhapsodizing over the filibuster and the merits of bipartisanship for months, these debates are far from surprising. One obvious problem is they fly in the face of overwhelming evidence that bipartisanship is (mostly) dead. However, there is another, more troubling issue that warrants our attention.
Sinema and Manchin maintain the filibuster protects not just our democracy, but also the Democratic Party. If we rely on a mere majority for legislation, the thinking goes, any leftward movement will be met with an equal rightward change when the GOP inevitably contributes to power. Thus, we want to feel the filibuster not merely ensures stability, but, in the long term, actually protects Democratic Party’s legislative pursuits.
This analysis presumes that both parties are alike considering passing legislation which both equally benefit from a procedure that hastens democratic change. A moment’s reflection about the modern GOP shows these assumptions to be false.
Consider this query: why didn’t Mitch McConnell nuke the legislative filibuster during the first couple of years of Trump’s presidency if the Republicans held control over both chambers of Congress? The Senate majority leader–with the support of Senate Republicans–thankfully abolished the filibuster for Supreme Court justice nominees. This was after McConnell had refused to hold a hearing for Merrick Garland, basically hobbling another branch of the government. At the time, McConnell even declared:”One of my proudest moments was when I looked Barack Obama in the eye and I said,’Mr. President, you will not fill the Supreme Court vacancy.”
So is there something about the legislative filibuster’s role that’s more valuable to McConnell than other norms he’s broken? No. He only wants to maintain the legislative filibuster because, despite what Sinema and Manchin claim, the procedure ensures an imbalance of power that benefits Republicans while harming Democrats.
A 60-vote threshold would benefit any conservative party over a progressive counterpart by minimizing change. Even if a conservative party desires regressive change–such as the privatization of a public entitlement (e.g., Social Security or Medicare)–their next priority is, at the very least, maintaining the status quo. The GOP is thus well-served by a procedure that favors inaction at the federal level.
The asymmetrical benefit of the filibuster doesn’t stop there. The GOP doesn’t want to build anything. They want to either destroy the safety net we have or, at the very least, ensure it doesn’t get more expansive. This predictably results in congressional gridlock. Major legislation is rarely passed, which makes distinguishing the two parties’ plans hard. And guess who gains from this state of affairs?
An amorphous bulk of congressional inaction fuels voter apathy which, in turn, negatively impacts Democrats more than Republicans among key constituents, such as youthful voters. Why vote in the midterms if neither party does something meaningful?
Republicans further benefit from federal gridlock because the