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National Op-Ed Politics and Governance

Shaholli: Abolish the Filibuster

The time to abolish the filibuster is long overdue.

The filibuster is not in the U.S. Constitution. It is not codified law. It is simply a procedural mechanism adopted by the Senate at the suggestion of Vice President Aaron Burr in 1805. Burr thought the previous question motion, which only required a simple majority to end debate, hindered the chamber’s deliberative potential. Senators were still appointed by state legislatures at this time. Thus, the “deliberative” qualities Burr yearned for did not include voters. Furthermore, the Senate is already structured as a minoritarian institution. For example, California, Texas, and Florida account for a combined 27 percent of the U.S. population, yet they hold only 6 percent of all Senate seats. Relying on additional procedural constraints that further exacerbate political inequities — like the filibuster — is dogmatic and nonsensical.

BIPARTISANSHIP IS OVERRATED

“Bipartisanship” is a meaningless media buzzword for people who are lacking health care, struggling to pay rent, or drowning in student loan debt. Consensus is not inherently virtuous. Some of the most destructive pieces of legislation throughout my lifetime were approved by ironclad Senate supermajorities.

In 1999, the Senate repealed the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933 by a vote of 90-8. This allowed banks to engage in risky, speculative investments with depositor money. Two years later, the Senate unanimously approved the Authorization of Use of Military Force of 2001 (AUMF). The AUMF enabled the president to bypass congressional approval and oversight for at least 30 military operations — including troop deployments and drone strikes. That same year, the world’s “greatest deliberative body” rubber-stamped President Bush’s unconstitutional agenda — passing the PATRIOT Act by a 98-1 margin.

In 2003, the Senate voted 77-23 to authorize the Iraq Resolution, beginning a war based on lies, which led to the deaths of at least 500,000 Iraqis and over 8,300 American soldiers and contractors. These numbers are only direct deaths caused by warfare — not indirect ones spurred by loss of food, water, infrastructure, and long-term physical and mental health ailments. A filibuster-proof coterie of Senators regularly approves astronomical increases in military spending — despite expenditures regularly exceeding that of the next 10 nations combined. The 2019 defense spending boost sailed 86-8 through the Senate, including the creation of the Space Force as the sixth military branch — initially proposed by President Trump as a joke.

Many media pundits lament polarization. This tendency leads to bipartisanship in service of the surveillance state, the banking industry, and the military-industrial complex receiving insufficient scrutiny.

Arguably the most consequential legislation to the lives of regular people in the last few decades — the Affordable Care Act — passed along party lines. It received no support from congressional Republicans. The 31 million people who acquired health coverage through this law likely do not care that it passed in a partisan fashion.

THE AMERICAN RESCUE PLAN ACT

Unsurprisingly, the same applies for President Biden’s American Rescue Plan Act — which the Senate Democrats approved with Vice President Kamala Harris casting the tie-breaking vote amid unanimous Republican opposition. The bill passed via budget reconciliation — a procedure that allows the Senate to adopt a bill affecting spending, revenue, or the federal debt limit with a simple majority.

Sixty-one percent of Americans surveyed approved of the American Rescue Plan — including 41 percent of Republicans. Additionally, 45 percent of those surveyed believe the bill provides sufficient relief, 24 percent think it does not offer enough, while only 21 percent think that Biden’s plan is too extensive.

Provisions include one-time relief payments, extended unemployment benefits, enhanced SNAP benefits, and an increased Child Tax Credit. Notably, the proposal increases the Child Tax Credit from $2,000 to $3,000 for each child older than 6, and to $3,600 per each one under 6. This measure alone is projected to lift 4.1 million children above the poverty line — reducing the child poverty rate by 40 percent.

LEGISLATIVE HURDLES

The filibuster is a veritable threat to voting rights, fair representation, infrastructure improvements, and accountability for the Jan. 6 insurrectionists and co-conspirators.

So far this year, 14 states have adopted new voter restrictions among 361 total voter suppression bills introduced in state legislatures nationwide. The For the People Act would ameliorate most of these issues. However, not a single Republican Senator supports it, meaning it would not reach the 60-vote cloture threshold required to stop a filibuster.

A similar dynamic applies to the Washington DC, Admission Act, which would grant statehood to the District of Columbia. Notably, DC residents lack congressional representation, unlike Vermont and Wyoming, which have numerically smaller and demographically whiter populations.

Last month, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) attempted to coax Republican senators and billionaire donors into supporting a bipartisan commission tasked with investigating the January Capitol Riot by promising to staunchly protect the filibuster. Despite these efforts, the commission legislation failed 54-35.

Meanwhile, the confines of the filibuster have watered down Biden’s initial infrastructure proposal to a hodgepodge of public-private partnerships. These partnerships largely favor investors over underserved communities, particularly rural ones.

It is ludicrous for a president who received the most votes in American history during an election with the highest turnout since 1900 to fail to deliver his agenda because of an arcane parliamentary trick.

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