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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Dionne: Filibuster Reform Needed to Save Democracy

E. J. Dionne, Jr.’s column, “Goodbye and good riddance to the filibuster” in The Washington Post provides an eloquent epitaph for Mitch McConnell’s one-man veto of needed legislative reforms. As Dionne writes, “President Biden has signaled that the days of the Senate filibuster’s stranglehold on majority rule are numbered. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is scared to death that he’s right.” Further,

McConnell is particularly worried that Democrats will use their majorities in the House and Senate to enact fundamental reforms to our political system, from protecting voting rights to containing dark money’s influence on elections. That’s why the man who supposedly loves Congress’s upper chamber promised to create “a completely scorched earth Senate” if Democrats try to make it easier to pass legislation.

Biden warming up to the idea of making the filibuster much harder to use is big news, given his reluctance to take this step in the past. He’s responding to reality. As the president told ABC News’s George Stephanopoulos on Tuesday: “It’s getting to the point where, you know, democracy is having a hard time functioning.”

Dionne adds that “has more standing than just about anyone to persuade the filibuster’s staunchest Democratic supporters, Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, of two things. First, the time for major new restraints on the filibuster has come; second, and just as important, that the current abuse of the filibuster flies in the face of authentic Senate tradition.”

In addition, Dionne writes, “And changing filibuster rules would be nothing new. McConnell himself instituted the most recent shift. Eager to guarantee a conservative majority on the Supreme Court, the narrow Republican majority voted to remove the filibuster for Supreme Court confirmations. Not one of President Donald Trump’s three nominees — not one — got close to 60 votes. When it came to court-packing, McConnell had no problem with majority rule.”

It’s really a matter of survival for the Democratic Party and for American democracy, both of which depend on enactment of the ‘For the People Act,’ which cannot pass the U.S. Senate without filibuster reform. “The comprehensive political reform bill would block the scandalous attack on voting rights in some Republican states,” Dionne writes. “It would also curb gerrymanders that distort representation, take major steps to limit the power of dark money by expanding disclosure and create strong incentives for politicians to rely on small as opposed to large contributions.”

Dionne explains that “absolutely no one believes that Republicans will provide enough votes to overcome a filibuster on a voting rights bill. Thus, it would be legislative malpractice for Democrats to walk away from a broadly popular (and much needed) suite of improvements to our political system when doing so won’t get them to 60 votes anyway.”

However, Dionne notes, “Moving away from the filibuster will take time. Change is likely to be gradual, not sudden. The Senate might have to start with narrower reforms (including Biden’s “talking filibuster”) before it becomes inescapable that legislating will require getting rid of the filibuster entirely for whole categories of bills.”

Dionne concludes, “Of course, the alternative is for Republicans to become a more moderate, less monolithic party and to work constructively with Biden on major legislation. The fact that you just chuckled dismissively at that sentence is why filibuster reform is inevitable.”

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