On June 22, Republican abuse of the filibuster killed debate and prevented the For the People Act, which would have expanded voting rights, from reaching the Senate floor. In May, Republicans used the filibuster to block a bipartisan January 6 commission. There is no clearer public interest purpose than what was proposed by these victims of the filibuster. Both acts are closely aligned with the neutral purpose of public interest defined by the Constitution to establish “a more perfect union.”
The For the People Act and the January 6 commission would not promote the interests of any political party or enhance any special interest. Instead, they would reestablish ground rules for the integrity of the democracy game that we play out every election cycle. Who opposes that? What Americans object to those legislative purposes? What ethical person believes majority rule should be instantly transformed into minority control if it serves the interest of a corrupt minority?
Their goal is to disenfranchise voters.
It is ironic that Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, disguises his crass corruption with hypocritical claims these public interest policies are a “power grab” when that is exactly what motivates Republican obstruction of these policies by filibuster. From the filibuster’s beginnings in long uninterrupted debate in opposition to a bill before the Senate it has become an instant poison that requires no debate ordeal.
Beyond killing public interest legislation, the companion crime of the filibuster is bribery, another core threat to our democracy. Continued campaign financing from billion-dollar donors allows a continuous quid pro quo system of corrupt partisan compliance.
Is the remedy tit-for-tat retaliation? Does it require the Democrats get tough in the same way these unprincipled Republicans play the Senate game? The answer is no, because it will achieve mutual destruction of our constitutional system. So, what is to be done?
Today we can trust the decision of whether a bill is subject to budget reconciliation through the opinion of the parliamentarian, an adviser on Senate rules. Why not extend the jurisdiction of the parliamentarian to determine when a piece of legislation has the purpose of voter empowerment? If so, it should be exempt from filibuster destruction, and enacted by a simple majority of 51 percent.
If Republicans resist parliamentarian checks on the filibuster, they must be taken to the people. It will become crystal clear that their goal is to disenfranchise voters because they know fair and free elections may result in a loss. Voting is a core exercise of citizenship. It is the lifeblood of democracy. Disenfranchisement should strike every citizen, whatever their partisan persuasion, as intolerable.
This simple remedy of a parliamentarian check on the filibuster would distinguish between elected officials who are pro-democracy and those who are authoritarian.