Majority rule isn't just — or even especially — for leftists
People are really blowing the far left out of proportion and it's empowering them. There is absolutely no way there are 51 votes for Medicare for All, Defund, or any of the other boogeymen. The moderates and the Democratic Party ad a whole have huge electoral incentives to ignore that stuff. Meanwhile, since they can't pass half the stuff that would improve the brands of the party or the moderates, all that's left is asinine public fighting, giving the far left more airtime.
A Sopranos finale of an article :)
Manchin’s support for the filibuster makes no sense. He could be the tipping point vote most of the time. He could bring tens of billions in pork to his state, a place where that kind of money would go a long way. Instead, he prefers paralysis. Why?
As someone in a parliamentary country, it's astonishing that the case can't be expressed as simply as "the people who are elected should have the power to govern, and then be held accountable for how that power has been used at future elections".
Something you alluded to but wasn't sure you outright meant was that whilst the senate's dyfunction was initially driven by polarisation, it may now itself be driving/sustaining that polarisation, would be interested to know if that was subtext or text.
Another thought - to what extent would culture war bullshit be less effective if a governing party has a record, which they clearly own, and can be accountable for at the polls? It's got to be better than this inside-baseball, he-said-she-said, procedural sausage-machine reporting from which Americans are somehow supposed to pick out which party is best representing their interests?
Couldn't agree more. Here is analogy (though I admittedly know very little about baseball).
Let's say umpires widened the strike zone, and the batting average in Major League Baseball went from .248 to .148 What would happen? Singles (moderate legislation) would disappear because getting on base would be useless, and everybody would swing for the fences. That's what the rise of the filibuster has done. Now there is one inning called budget reconciliation where the the old strike zone is in place. So now we have a nine inning game, but you only need to watch the budget reconciliation inning, because that is the only inning when anything happens. And the temptation to do everything possible in that inning becomes irresistible. Lot's of base stealing in this inning - like we can never get a minimum wage passed in later innings, but it is allowed in the first inning if instead of just increasing the min wage (not allowed in budget reconciliation), we tax every company an absurd amount for every worker they have that makes less than the minimum wage (allowed). So the first inning is very uncivilized with lots of attempts to test the limits of the rules because it is the whole game. Baseball was already a slow boring game. Under the new rules, everyone becomes an asshole, and people stop watching or caring about 8 of the 9 innings because they are mostly useless. Also, there is another sports, Presidential politics and the judiciary. that everybody cares much more about because through executive orders and judicial nominations and stuff, you can actually score some points/goals/whatever.
RE: McConnel not nuking the legislative filibuster--can anyone give an example of something the GOP would have wanted to do in 2017-2018 were it not for the filibuster? Meaning something Trump wanted, the House wanted, and 50+ senators wanted? And that the *only* reason it didn't happen was because daddy mitch said no?
I mean--they couldn't even get to 50 for their skinny ACA repeal! I just don't think there’s a lot of legislation that the entire Republican party even wants (other than reconcilable tax cuts) and *that’s* why the filibuster is still standing. If there was something they wanted to do, I don’t think they’d have cold over nuking the filibuster for it. I admit that Trump makes any kind of legislating impossible, but even if say they had had a 50+senate trifecta + president Romney and there was something they wanted other than cutting taxes, I feel like they’d just go for it.
Not that I’m disagreeing or anything with the post—lots of stuff I had never even thought of—but my main motivation for it is we’re going to feel pretty dumb when they do it to us #firststrike
Great post, Matt. But I wonder if you get the incentives wrong: for many pols, being able to grandstand (turbocharged by social media) while dodging accountability, because they don’t actually have to vote (filibuster), is the perfect formula, esp. these days if they’re on the right and don’t have much of a positive policy agenda of their own. What’s Susan Collins’s real motivation? Replacing the income tax with a VAT (or put your fave bold policy initiative here) or just staying in Washington so she can be fawned over back at the lobster roll lunches in Maine?
I confess I got bored reading this not because I disagree but because of course I fully agree and so what? It's just an empty calorie argument. No one on our side really mounts a defense of the filibuster (except for Bill Scher, I guess), but it just doesn't matter because the political forces -- for whatever reason -- aren't arrayed in favor.
The problem isn't that you can't convince Joe Manchin. The problem is that you *have* to convince Joe Manchin.(*) We couldn't figure out how to beat Collins in Maine; we picked a bad candidate in North Carolina; we didn't do our best to defend Bill Nelson in Florida in 2018. Etc.
Yes I know the map is stacked against Democrats in the Senate but just a few years ago (in 2009) we had 60 votes (ok, briefly) which is far more than the Republicans have ever had. Has the world changed so markedly that we can't figure out how to get 55? And if we get 55 then we don't have to worry about moderates like Manchin and Synema acting against what we think are their interests.
So figure out how to win a few more Senate seats (and please, no fantasies about DC and Puerto Rico for now) and then let's move to kill the filibuster. Until then, just use the tools we have at hand.
(*) And I will say nothing bad about Manchin. It's because of his miraculous ability to survive in West Virginia that McConnell is not Senate Majority Leader. Thank you, Joe!
I’ve been wondering lately if the Democrats would have ended the filibuster back in 2009 if they hadn’t had 60 seats in the Senate, making it possible to pass the ACA.
I listened to your podcast with Molly Reynolds and one thing that stuck out to me was her description about how part of why the filibuster changed in the 70s was that the Federal government was expanding into more and more areas and so there was just more stuff to filibuster.
Ezra Klein has made the argument that the filibuster should be reformed to allow for whatever party wins to govern and then the public can judge them on its merits. But in practice, both Matt and Ezra don't follow this through. Take for example the $15 minimum wage increase. States are free to pass legislation to increase the minimum wage, and some have. But others have chosen to not pass that legislation and their constituents are able to hold them accountable for it. Instead of supporting that, they are both strongly in favor of national legislation that would raise the minimum wage. Which in effect requires a state like Michigan to raise its minimum wage at the behest of the voters in New York instead of it remaining with the voters in Michigan. Why does this need to be nationalized?
Which brings me to my broader concern about the filibuster. If Progressives/Democrats want more and more issues to be nationalized, it seems very appropriate to me that there be a super majoritarian rule. Congress should need for a majority of the places where people to live to accept a rule that will affect them - otherwise leave it to the state to decide. If New York as a primarily urban state wants to pass laws that benefit urban areas, then they should do so. But I don't understand why a state like West Virginia should have to follow the same rules when the majority of their population isn't urban.
Matt -- Any thoughts on how big of a risk abortion rights would face without a filibuster? Part of me thinks the GOP simply want the energizing aspects of the abortion issue without actually acting on it -- so this calls their bluff. Another part of me looks at the accelerating pace of restrictions in red states and is terrified.
I’ve seen some articles cite the statistics of the 41M lower population represented by 50 GOP senators than 50 Dem senators. However, I think there is an even more interesting data point that emphasizes how much worse it is when you consider that 41 GOP senators can block most legislation with the current filibuster rules. The relevant statistic in this view would be:
42 Senators representing less than 23% of the U.S. population can effectively block any legislation using the filibuster.
See details below:
State Population Percent of U.S. population GOP Senators
Wyoming 578,759 0.18% 2
Alaska 731,545 0.22% 2
North Dakota 762,062 0.23% 2
South Dakota 884,659 0.27% 2
Montana 1,068,778 0.33% 1
Maine 1,344,212 0.41% 1
Idaho 1,787,065 0.55% 2
West Virginia 1,792,147 0.55% 1
Nebraska 1,934,408 0.59% 2
Kansas 2,913,314 0.89% 2
Mississippi 2,976,149 0.91% 2
Arkansas 3,017,825 0.92% 2
Iowa 3,155,070 0.96% 2
Utah 3,205,958 0.98% 2
Oklahoma 3,956,971 1.21% 2
Kentucky 4,467,673 1.36% 2
Louisiana 4,648,794 1.42% 2
Alabama 4,903,185 1.50% 2
South Carolina 5,148,714 1.57% 2
Wisconsin 5,822,434 1.78% 1
Missouri 6,137,428 1.87% 2
Indiana 6,732,219 2.06% 2
Tennessee 6,833,174 2.09% 2
Total 74,802,543 22.8% 42
What's become clear to me is how much more screwed we would have been in the short- and medium- term future had Ossoff and Warnock lost their Senate races. Democrats would have been in a miserable position on cabinet picks, and the country would have been in a miserable position on relief. No cards to play for Dems. No leadership positions. Impeachment shelved. Filibuster reform not even uttered. Just deep depression for anyone interested in functioning government. Extremely consequential two Senate races, more so than I originally thought.
Unsolicited writing advice: stop using 'normie.' The mild derogation is offputting. It also slows down my reading because I have to check whether you are making an ad hominem argument.
Todd Young is from Indiana (sadly).
"... which inspired the Senate to adopt the rule that 67 senators could cut off debate."
I think the rule was actually 2/3, so at that time it would be 2/3 * 96 = 64