My position is that the filibuster should be abolished. It subverts the will of the majority of Americans, and it has historical roots in racism. If I were in charge, the filibuster would be gone tomorrow. But the reality is that, at least as of right now, there are not enough votes in the Senate to get rid of the filibuster. However this does not mean that the liberal agenda is somehow doomed, because the filibuster isn’t the magic wand that a lot of media pundits are making it out to be.
To be clear, by default, nothing requires sixty votes in the Senate. Budgetary legislation only ever requires a simple majority. And even with other kinds of legislation, sixty votes are only required if someone actually tries to filibuster it. Despite the doomsday narratives you keep hearing on cable news right now, a filibuster is not a given.
It’s still far from clear whether Senate Republicans will go ahead and filibuster any given legislation during this session, because Senate Democrats have spelled out that if a filibuster is tried, they might simply change filibuster rules to exempt that specific kind of legislation. This would allow the Democrats to pass their legislation, while still allowing certain hesitant Senate Democrats to stand by their position that they don’t want to abolish the filibuster altogether.
In fact, what I’ve just described above is the most likely scenario going forward: the selective dismantling of the filibuster. The second most likely scenario is the one where Senate Republicans strategically decide not to filibuster, and then run in 2022 on the premise that the legislation passed by the Democrats is harmful. The distant third most likely scenario is that Republicans try one too many filibusters, and even the most hesitant Senate Democrats finally feel like they have the all-clear to simply abolish it.
Then there’s the doomsday scenario where President Biden and Senate Democrats sit helplessly by like proverbial damsels in distress, don’t manage to pass anything, and just shrug a lot. This scenario is almost laughably unrealistic. But it’s the one you’ll keep hearing about from pundits, because it’s the kind of doomsday scenario that scares you into staying tuned in.
Again, the filibuster should be abolished. But while activism is about what should be done, politics, is about what can be done. And if the filibuster can’t be abolished during this term, it absolutely does not mean that the liberal agenda is somehow doomed. Political progress always comes in the form of a series of procedural moves. It’s not the supernatural suspense thriller, full of magic wands and helpless victims, that cable news wants you to think it is.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report