Musings from the Bunker 4/8/21
Good morning, THE FILIBUSTER AND “HE DID IT FIRST…” I received a considerable number of responses to my call to either eliminate or meaningfully weaken the filibuster. Here is the “lightening round” of comments from several very bright and thoughtful commentators:
Biden used to be for the filibuster. Per then-Senator Joe Biden, “…the filibuster is not about stopping a nominee or a bill; it is about compromise and moderation. That is why the Founders put unlimited debate in.” Thanks, Jeff Polak. But this quote if from 2005, when the temperature in Washington was a bit different. Perhaps, the filibuster back then more closely resembled what was intended (although I believe its corrosive power was still entrenched). I think Biden was wrong then. But today, we aren’t even talking about ongoing debate. We are talking about simply sending a note to the chair to stop debate and then waiting for the 60 votes to get going again (which vote never will come). If it were about debate, then by all means, let’s debate.
Both sides are to blame. “I agree that McConnell is an obstructionist and factually is not doing his job. He, Pelosi, McCarthy, Schumer, etc., etc. (regardless of party affiliation) have been divisive and have shown a terrible lack of leadership and stewardship as they have destroyed Congress…They are worried that any real legislation will upset their constituents on the edge.” Thanks, Brad Mindlin. I agree. That Mr. McConnell is the most egregious proponent/user of the filibuster and practitioner of obstruction does not absolve others of their contributions.
It comes from original sin. “…its historical origin and exercise as the tool of segregationists are reason enough to reveal its malevolent essence and compel its elimination.” Thanks, Mark DiMaria. It began in a bad place. It needs modification.
Everyone does it. “…your sole focus on McConnell is not supported by the facts. The Democrats have used the filibuster as much as he has and in the past four years, in the face of Trump demanding the end of the legislative filibuster, McConnell refused to change the rules…” Thanks, Jeremy Rosen. I am not suggesting one side is without sin and the other is solely responsible. But just saying “he did it too” doesn’t get us anywhere. The legislature needs to legislate. In the absence of legislation by the majority, we are faced with legislative deadlock. And since equity abhors a vacuum, the executive steps in and effectively legislates, as do the courts from the bench. Fixing this branch will help constrain the other two as well.
The filibuster isn’t about debate or legislation; it’s about not debating and not legislating. Mark Shpall cites the words of John Boehner, “We’re going to do everything—and I mean everything we can do—to kill it, stop it, slow it down, whatever we can.” That’s the point. It’s not an instrument that encourages debate, compromise, and better law. It is, rather an instrument of impediment. If the people elect one party to control of Congress, we should allow the vote of the people to control.
The House of Representatives doesn’t have a filibuster; neither do state legislatures; neither do most legislative bodies in the free world? Why the Senate? Why should the majority not rule? Because slave states in the 19th century argued in favor of unlimited debate, ensuring bills would not get to the floor. While there might have been an argument before that requiring a high number of votes for cloture would encourage legislation, the practical effect in our current times is exactly the opposite. It ensures that the majority is held hostage from enacting laws the public presumably wanted passed when they were elected in the last election. PERSPECTIVE Last week, we learned of a horrific break in—apparently a burglary—in the Beverly Grove area of Los Angeles. A man was killed. Later the murderer took his own life. What is so tragic and sobering is that I heard of this crime from two friends—one on each side of the country—who had a connection to the victim. We have been inured to the parade deaths in America—from crime, gun violence, suicide, and COVID—that we often see them as statistics, rather than people. In this instance, however, the tragedy was so close to two completely unrelated people, underscoring the words of John Donne, “Each man’s death diminishes me, For I am involved in mankind.” In the last few weeks, several people to whom I was close passed away (none of them from COVID). The following was sent by a friend regarding the death of another friend. The name is changed to respect privacy. The message is one we all can take to heart: “The news of her death hit me surprisingly hard, and from the many responses to the original message, it has clearly affected many of you as well. Let’s also honor her by reminding ourselves that in this world of challenges and chaos, no matter the specifics of our situation, life is fragile; each of us is more fortunate than many others in this world; and we have much for which we should be grateful. Rather than waste time focused on little annoyances (e.g., my busted NCAA March Madness bracket), let’s each take some time to appreciate and thank the people still in our lives, not just immediate family and friends, but those who make our lives better in various capacities, as she always did.” Amen to that. Have a great day, Glenn