A freight train is a blessing, but if a train’s brakes are removed, it becomes a runway hazard. The US Senate’s “legislative filibuster” is a blessing, but without the filibuster – which brakes bill passage without a debate-ending 60 votes (that is, cloture) – the Senate becomes a runaway train.
The “world’s greatest deliberative body” would quickly go off the rails.
News flash: Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) refuses to promise Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) – both having 50 votes, Democrat Vice President a tiebreaker – that he will keep the filibuster and cloture. He will not promise brakes. This is ominous. See, e.g., https://www.foxnews.com/politics/mcconnell-schumer-spar-over-power-sharing-as-disagreement-over-filibuster-hamstrings-talks. At the same time, we have learned that two Democratic Senators will now oppose any change to the filibuster process and we hope they will not waiver. McConnell Statement on Democrats’ Commitments to Protect Senate Rules
Stakes are high, and here is why. The legislative filibuster requires – and has for more than 100 years – a Senate consider legislation with a filibuster, requiring 60 votes to go forward. This allows Senators to hear from you and me, gauge public passion and fear, depth of support and opposition, pros and cons, before passing a divisive, wrong-headed, or unconstitutional bill. The filibuster’s delay, and cloture’s ability to stop, bad ideas – has been lifesaving, for both parties.
For a refresher on how vital the “legislative filibuster” is to our Republic – even in undivided times – re-watch Jimmy Stewart’s epic film, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. The film is educational – as the filibuster stops profound public corruption. The filibuster is central to what makes America great. If you kill it, you nobble brakes that stop bad things from happening.
Let us get specific. If a 50-50 vote, broken by a Democrat VP, is how the Senate is now going to work – without filibuster or cloture, tools Senator Biden used many times – things change fast.
Suddenly, rather seeking “unity,” chaos will prevail. A sense of betrayal of tradition in the Senate will spread – to House, governors, state legislatures, attorneys general, law schools. The question “is nothing sacred?” will be answered, “no.” The downhill roll accelerates from there.
Rather than extended debate, persuasion, amendment, modification, refinement, and deliberation, we will witness a runaway train – something akin to how successive Soviet-era politburos, the Venezuelan national assembly, and McCarthyism worked, rampant injustice defined as justice.
Suddenly, with half the country expecting preservation of institutions, procedures, rule of law, and traditions – which historically survive party shifts – we will see something else entirely, something anti-historical, anti-traditional, gut-wrenching, and highly objectionable.
We will see an undemocratic, socialist-heavy majority stuffing “citizen expectations” into a corner, determined to quickly move power-concentrating bills. If this sounds too harsh, consider legislation that a 50-50 Senate, absent minority voices, filibuster, and cloture, could pass.
Democrats are talking massive, unchecked federal spending, New Green Deal that upends energy, transportation, and costs 30 trillion; Medicare-for-All stripping citizens of private coverage, punishing quality, costing another 30 trillion; federal control of the economy, energy, transportation, health care, and finance to private education, banking, aviation, and high tech. They will bankrupt, demonize, and demoralize half the country.
Worse, without a legislative filibuster, the Supreme Court could be packed, ending the last best chance for non-political, constitutional review, and public trust. They could reshape the federal judiciary, adding and splitting circuits. They could control the private sector, punishing churches, religious schools, non-profits, while criminalizing gun ownership and free speech – this article!
In short, dams seldom burst because every brick falls together, but when one brick falls – holding the others together. Runaway trains do not destroy lives and property when all systems fail together, just when brakes fail to check disaster. As students of history – and most Americans –understand, the filibuster, broken by a 60-member vote, protects us all. Lose it, and we crash.
So, at a time of enormous frustration, what can be done? Everyone can call their Senator, affirm the legislative filibuster and cloture vote counts. We are not stupid, not eager for one-party domination. We know these tools protect the Republic, expect them retained. We expect mature leadership – which means leaders respecting history, rules, and time-honored procedures.
What else? So long as our First Amendment is written out of the Constitution, we can speak, write, and make clear our belief that Jimmy Stewart – and Americans before us – were right. The “world’s greatest deliberative body” relies on the filibuster and cloture vote. They protect the Republic from losing what keeps it a republic – trust, fairness, and respect for history. Take out the wrong brick, remove the train’s brakes, and things begin to come apart fast.