Opinion: How I Learned to Love the Filibuster

Wednesday, October 19, 2011 - 03:01 PM

After the Senate last week defeated President Obama's American Jobs Act through filibuster, the Congressional tactic has come under a lot of criticism. Illinois Senator Richard Durbin said Tuesday that he favors a return to earlier (and tougher) rules, which required dissenting lawmakers hold the floor continuously in order to defeat a bill. And the defeat of major legislation never fails to result in the perennial calls to end the filibuster maneuver itself.

I don't understand how people support getting rid of the filibuster. Like so much else in politics, it stems from a lack of long term perspective, or in this case even medium term. The last generation has seen an increasing level of partisanship, leading up to the current extremes of the Tea Party, and now the possibility of a similarly divisive element on the left rising up and pulling that party even farther away from the center like their right wing counterpart has.

Just go back a few years, to the early 2000's, and think to yourself what sort of hyper-partisan legislation would have passed when George W. Bush was in office, and the republicans had control of the House and Senate, or the two years where President Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid ran Washington. It is a truly scary thought.

If you, like most Americans, think taxes are too low on upper income people right now, and deficits are skyrocketing too much already, you have to agree with the filibuster. Take away the filibuster and both would be dramatically worse. I don't think it would be too much of a stretch to say that had the filibuster ended a decade ago, we might be looking at something to the tune of a twenty trillion dollar debt, instead of a fourteen trillion dollar debt, without the moderating influence of needing votes from moderates to pass spending bills that aren't paid for, and without covering tax cuts with spending cuts. The interest payments on the debt would eat up even more of the federal budget, and the future we'd be passing onto the next generation would be even more selfishly dire.

One wonders if the PATRIOT Act would have gone even farther towards encroaching on privacy had there not been the filibuster. I think it would have. How far would the right have gone towards attacking public education in No Child Left Behind, had they not needed moderates to pass their legislation in the Senate?

I think you would be deluded if you didn't think that Bush and company wouldn't have passed an even more stringless bailout, without needing moderates in the Senate to pass the legislation, and you can toss out how the program ended up paying for itself in the long run.

I shudder to think about what sort of trade agreements Bush and company might have passed without the filibuster, opening our trade doors wide, while not using our leverage to get the other country to do the same so we had some semblence of trade fairness.

Obama and company would have likely been able to go much farther than the vast majority would have wanted them to in regards to health care reform and passed actual socialized healthcare legislation, without the filibuster, as well as not needed to pay for the program without moderates pressing that issue.

Without the filibuster, the stimulus package Obama passed would have been much more wasteful and directed even more so at special interest groups beholden to the left, just as the stimulus package Bush passed would have been the mirror opposite.

We hear extreme ideological ideas tossed around all the time that people know will never pass... because of the filibuster. Without the filibuster, all the party in power needs to do is whip their own caucus into shape, and not even the whole of it.

If you think politics is insane now, like most people do, just toss out the filibuster and see the Pandora's Box of madness that ensues the moment either party takes a control of Washington again. The filibuster is one of the very few things keeping back a flood of hyper-partisanship that would make the last decade of increasing partisanship look like a dinner party in comparison.

Solomon Kleinsmith is a former nonprofit worker, serial social entrepreneur and strident centrist independent blogger from Omaha, Nebraska. His website, Rise of the Center, is the fastest growing blog targeting centrist independents and moderates.


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Comments [2]

Jack Jackson from Central New Jersey

Sorry, Sol, couldn't disagree more. And let us not forget that the filibuster - as now used - flies in the face of the representative democracy that is key to our republic. [Too many voters already think that the Democrats had control of legislative power for two years -- conveniently forgetting the required 'super majority' lasted 19 days...from the inauguration of Al Franken in July to the death of Teddy Kennedy in August. The Senate was in recess during August!]
I'll take the return of the old 'filibuster' rules as dramatized in 'Mr. Smith Goes to Washington' - Take the floor and hold it through quorum calls and procedural challenges, otherwise let the People's business proceed. The current system lets a minority put a kibosh on action and continue fund-raising. It's undemocratic and enables the DC dysfunction. I also think that term-limits are undemocratic. Let the voters excercise their franchise. Extra safeguards should be unnecessary.

Oct. 21 2011 07:58 PM
Ronald from New York

That is a very good point and I agree with it completely.
However, I would like to point out two things.
While the right looks completely unhinged and capable of crackpot legislation, it looks to me that the problem with president Obama is that he, on the other end, has been too moderate and timid in the kind of legislation he has supported.
His stimulus package is considered by many economists too small and his positive effects have been waning. Plus, the substantial amount of tax cuts that it contained to pacify conservatives, made it already less effective because tax cuts, with their tendency to be saved rather than spent, have a much smaller multiplier effect and therefore less stimulating power on a depressed economy.
"Obama and company would have likely been able to go much farther than the vast majority would have wanted them to in regards to health care reform and passed actual socialized healthcare legislation...".
Imagine that!! We would now have European-style socialized medicine where everybody is covered, health costs are way lower than ours, you don't loose your coverage when you loose your job etc.
That would have been unthinkable!!
Thank God the filibuster saved us!!...

Oct. 20 2011 12:29 PM

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