Let me begin by saying that I am strongly for eliminating the legislative filibuster entirely. But certain Democratic Senators, most notably Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), have made it clear that they will not vote to remove the legislative filibuster and, thus, at least for now, Democrats lack the votes to end the filibuster. That is just a fact and is the premise underlying this post.
Although Democrats lack the votes to overturn the legislative filibuster entirely, Greg Sargent today provides the necessary reminder that a limited reform of the filibuster is still reasonable and possible. In “The Senate doesn’t have to be the graveyard of the Biden agenda,” Mr. Sargent notes that one reasonable, limited reform is that instead of one annual filibuster-proof “Reconciliation” bill (limited in subject) the majority party could be allowed a limited number of such filibuster-proof bill opportunities (unrestricted in subject):
So allow me to propose an idea, one that would open up space for some actual legislating. What if the Senate passed a rule saying that while the legislative filibuster is intact, the majority will be allowed five bills every year, unrestricted in topic, which will be debated and then voted on and will only need a simple majority to pass?Call them Special Majority Rule bills, or Sammers. You get five Sammers a year, or maybe seven, or four — just so it’s more than one (and if somebody can come up with a catchier name, please do).
The number would be agreed on (and I doubt it would be as high as 5), and maybe such bills could be limited to a single subject matter, rather than Frankenstein, “omnibus” bills. As Mr. Sargent notes, the filibuster protection would largely remain, the majority party would be able to legislate occasionally, but it also would have to carefully choose priorities.
Or, we could change the number of votes to defeat a filibuster from 60 to 55 Senators. And, if necessary to pass, that proposal also could be limited to some number (e.g., 3 to 5) of bills per session.
The point is that there are obvious compromise ideas to reform the filibuster that would have a meaningful impact on the ability to govern and confront real problems — and to allow a majority party to enact key policies and let those efforts be judged by voters at the polls.
And the real key to this is that eliminating or reforming the filibuster only requires 51 votes. So this issue lies squarely on the shoulders of the Democratic majority Senate. I would go to Dem. Senator Manchin (and there are others) and put it squarely to them: “OK, you won't budge on eliminating the legislative filibuster. But do you oppose giving Democrats an additional three filibuster-proof bills? One more? Or a 55 vote threshold?”
What is the possible counter-argument here?