You might hear the term “filibuster” pretty often these days, but maybe you don’t fully understand what it means. It’s in the news a ton right now because Senate Democrats want to either modify its rules or get rid of it entirely. That is because they want their most significant agenda items to move forward, but they face Republican obstruction.
We’ll talk about the filibuster in this article. We will explain what it is, why it matters, and we’ll talk about its future as well.
What Exactly is the Filibuster, Anyway?
Ask the average American about the filibuster, and it’s the equivalent of asking them why passwordless authentication matters. The only way you’ll know about these things is if you’re pretty knowledgeable about politics, or you work in the IT field, respectively.
The filibuster is a kind of political procedure that has existed for many decades. One or more legislature members try to prolong debate on a bill’s passage by talking. Sometimes, they will speak about the bill they do not want to see pass. However, you can also filibuster a bill just by standing up and talking about virtually anything at all.
You can find YouTube videos that show Senate members over the years talking about the most outlandish things that have nothing to do with bills. As long as the filibuster rules remain as they are, a senator can continue to talk for as long as they want to stop a vote on a bill. They might stand up and speak for twenty hours at a time in some instances.
What Changes Can America Make to the Filibuster?
America elected Joe Biden during a particularly contentious time in American politics. Though he beat incumbent president Donald Trump by about seven million votes, with a record eighty-one million Americans voting for him, he has not accomplished very much because of Republican obstruction. He has wanted to change the filibuster rules because that seems to be the only way he can push through his most significant policies and cement his legacy.
Biden and Democratic senators have proposed changes to the filibuster, but Republicans want nothing to do with it. Two ostensibly Democratic senators, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kristin Sinema of Arizona, also stand with Republicans and want to leave the filibuster as it is. Sinema and Manchin identify as Democrats, but they are both pretty conservative when you compare them to some other lawmakers.
Biden and Senate Dems continue to talk about when and how they can change the filibuster. Most of them seem to favor changing the filibuster’s talking aspect. The idea is that 60 senators can vote to end debate at any time. If 60 senators won’t vote to do so, talking for obstructionist purposes can continue.
What Other Options Are on the Table?
Another option would be to lower the number of Senators required to debate a bill from 60 to 50. Most Democrats seem fine with that option, while Republicans do not.
There’s a third idea, though, the “carveout” option. This is the notion that senators could change fundamental Senate rules and allow for a one-time exception that would let them use a simple majority threshold to pass a party’s high-priority legislative package.
Biden and most centrist or left-leaning Dems seem to favor this third option more than the other two. However, they have not been able to make this change, again because of Sinema and Manchin. Those two have spoken repeatedly about not wanting to make that rule change, and nothing the other senators or current president have said seems enough to convince them.
Sinema seems to see herself as somewhat of a maverick, while Manchin is from West Virginia, traditionally seen as a fairly conservative state. Unless voters decide to vote them out of office during the next election cycle, it seems unlikely the filibuster rules will change anytime soon.
What Will Happen to the Senate in the Next Election?
The voting public might see the Senate’s inability to change the filibuster rules as a referendum on Biden’s presidency in general. They may react to his failure to work with the Senate to enact the sweeping changes he promised by voting Republicans back into power later this year.
If that happens, the filibuster will certainly not change. Lawmakers have structured it at the moment in a way that favors Republicans. You could look at all of this as a microcosm of American politics in general.
Some people feel like the filibuster rules as presently constituted don’t make much sense, but they take it one step further. These same individuals, usually considered left-leaning or progressive according to the American definition of these terms, frequently want to see the country get rid of the electoral college as well.
This would mean that America would become more of a straightforward democracy, in the sense that the person who received the total vote number in a presidential election would become president because they won the popular vote. Most Republicans don’t want to make that change, though, just like they don’t want the filibuster rules to change.
They’d prefer to keep things as they are because the current system favored them on certain occasions in the past. For instance, Donald Trump won and became president legally in 2016 over Hillary Clinton, even though Clinton received more overall votes.
The bottom line is that changing the presidential election by streamlining or modifying it is no more likely right now than the Senate Dems successfully changing the filibuster. Some lawmakers want it, and others don’t, just as some swaths of the American population support these changes while others do not.
That is because America remains sharply divided politically, and that is not changing anytime soon. Different population segments want to take this country in dramatically different directions. The filibuster is just one example of how one group wants something very badly, but others are just as adamant that they want things to remain as they are.