Eric Shawn: Busting the filibuster
Christopher Bedford on the hotly debated U.S. Senate parliamentary rule… and the politicians who hate it
Leadership is the quality I most remember my dad looking for and praising in others, and it is something I’ve always tried to study and emulate in great leaders.
As I sometimes wander the U.S. Capitol looking for solitude and inspiration, I’m struck by one of my favorite paintings hanging in the Rotunda. In this portrait, the artist depicts Gen. George Washington shortly after the Revolutionary War surrendering his commission as an officer. And behind Washington, resting on an otherwise empty throne, are the robes of a king – the robes he declined.
The leadership lesson here is that great leaders don’t seize more power when they see the opportunity.
Unfortunately, just over five months into the 117th Congress and after failing to pass several elements of their radical agenda, including their deceptive election overhaul, it appears the power grab Gen. Washington declined is now the majority party’s primary modus operandi. They’ve set their sights on eliminating the filibuster – the most important tool in the Senate, one that requires negotiation and compromise and provides one of the checks and balances in our system of government.
The filibuster has been deployed in the Senate since before the Civil War and requires 60 votes to end debate and move closer to voting on legislation. While opponents have attempted to describe this threshold as a means of obstruction, its primary function is to protect the rights of smaller states and the minority party by forcing both sides of the aisle to work together to overcome the procedural obstacle and come up with long-lasting policies that help all Americans.
President Joe Biden once understood this. In 2005, then-Sen. Biden remarked that “the filibuster is not about stopping a nominee or a bill, it is about compromise and moderation… It does not mean I get my way. It means you may have to compromise.”
The compromise needed to overcome the filibuster also helps maintain certainty for longer periods of time. Without it, we will see tax laws and many other important policies go up and down like a roller coaster, creating uncertainty and making it impossible for long-term planning.
Biden is not the only Democrat who has quickly changed their tune on the filibuster.
Imagine small businesses in Kansas and across the country trying to plan for the future, or a family saving for retirement or a child’s college education when the tax code changes every two to four years. It would be next to impossible to plan for the future. Political winds of the day should not be acted upon at the detriment of long term certainty.
Biden is not the only Democrat who has quickly changed their tune on the filibuster. In 2017, more than half of the Democrats currently serving in the U.S. Senate and Vice President Kamala Harris herself were among 61 senators who sent a letter to Senate leaders Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., opposing any effort to weaken the 60-vote threshold for legislation.
Just over four years later, now that we have a Democrat administration in the White House and control in Congress, we are witnessing what may be the most blatantly hypocritical policy switch we’ve ever seen. This flip-flop appears to be all in the name of greed and power. It is worth pointing out however, that Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., both continue to stick with their beliefs that the filibuster must remain in place as is.
Our system of government was designed to frustrate. It was designed to prevent an excessive accumulation of power in one branch or one party. While the current majority party in the Senate has used existing methods to maneuver around the necessity for 60 votes, the filibuster remains in place and serves as a means to protect these fundamental designs of our American system of government.
In the words of our beloved first president, George Washington, “the alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism.”
The American people clearly sent a message last November that they want divided government. They want their elected officials to compromise, and we must not remove the primary tool in the Senate that requires members of this body to do so.
It’s past time to end the petty bickering in Washington, by doing what we do in Kansas. We must use common sense to solve our problems and understand that our differences aren’t an excuse for the status quo, but a strength that can help us chart a new path to even greater opportunity for every person in Kansas and America. But this can happen only if we’re brave enough to do what’s best for the people of America.
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