Gaming out the end of the filibuster
Back in 2018, liberal pundits – on TV and online – collectively decided that Trump was about to pardon his co-conspirators at any moment, and that it would cause him to magically win, and we’d all be screwed. This was silly, both because pardons don’t work that way, and because it wouldn’t have helped Trump even if pardons did work that way.
Sure enough, Trump never did pardon any of his co-conspirators prior to election day, just like Palmer Report predicted. Then he lost the election, just like Palmer Report predicted. Then when Trump finally did pardon his co-conspirators after he lost, and only then did everyone realize that pardons never were magic wands, just as Palmer Report had long said. So what does this have to do with the filibuster in 2021? Everything.
There’s a reason the pundits were so wrong headed with their Trump pardon magical mystery tour in 2018: the whole thing was made up nonsense designed to scare you into staying tuned in, so everyone’s ratings and page views would remain high. The reason Palmer Report got the pardon storyline correct all along, when most others wildly blew it, was that we weren’t interested in playing along with the phony doomsday hype for ratings. Other pundits were hoping that by the time pardons didn’t magically save Trump’s presidency, you’d be too relieved to notice you’d been duped for ratings the entire time.
This brings us to the current doomsday hype over the filibuster. If you listen to almost any liberal pundit right now, on TV or online, they’ll tell you that the Democrats’ agenda is absolutely screwed because they haven’t eliminated the filibuster. You’re probably even believing it at this point, because you keep hearing it over and over and over again. But this notion is almost childlike in its absurd simplicity.
The one thing the pundits never do for you, while they’re trying to scare you into staying tuned in, is game things out for you even one step ahead. And why would they? If the entire point is to scare you into staying tuned in for ratings by pointing out that there’s an upcoming cliff, why would they point out that there’s also a bridge across that cliff? But here at Palmer Report, we like to point out the bridge to you.
Here’s what will actually happen as things move forward. The Democrats have a couple Senators from reddish states who keep loudly saying that they don’t want to get rid of the filibuster. They know they might ultimately have to do so, but for now they want to loudly get it on the record that they’re opposed to the idea. That way, if they do end up having to vote to get rid of it, they can tell their moderate constituents back home that they only did it very reluctantly, because some unreasonable Republican Senator forced them to. This is always how politicians spin things when they know they might have to make a move, and they’re concerned about how the constituents back home will see it. It’s politics 101.
But that’s actually two steps ahead. For now the filibuster is irrelevant. The first few pieces of legislation the Democrats will move forward with will be passed with reconciliation, which will only require fifty votes. Right now the pundits are hyping the fact that there are only a limited number of times per session that reconciliation can be used, but they’re leaving out the part where the Democrats can change the rules about reconciliation. So that’s a non issue.
In any case, the Democrats will pass their first few pieces of legislation with fifty votes, no problem. But let’s say after that, the Democrats reach a point where they’re voting on legislation that they can’t quite shoe horn into the rules of reconciliation, which do require some kind of budgetary component. That’s when the filibuster could finally become relevant – or more likely, still remain irrelevant.
Based on the operating agreement that Mitch McConnell has already irrevocably signed off on, the Senate Democrats can change the filibuster rules as they go during this session. So let’s say Democrats introduce a piece of legislation. Most Senate Republicans don’t want the filibuster gone, they’re likely to simply not filibuster it, meaning it’ll pass with fifty votes. Yes, it’s that simple. The pundits keep leaving this part out, but sixty votes aren’t required unless someone actually attempts a filibuster.
Even if someone like Ted Cruz does decide he wants to filibuster something, at that point the Senate Democrats can simply change the rules on the fly. They can get rid of the filibuster entirely, or they can just decide to exempt that particular kind of legislation from the filibuster. It’s that simple. And because most Senate Republicans don’t want the filibuster eliminated, there’s a good chance that if one of them does try a filibuster, other Senate Republicans will vote to shut down that attempt, just to keep the Democrats from eliminating the filibuster entirely.
And if the Senate Republicans don’t properly police their own side with regard to the filibuster, yes, the Senate Democrats will begin to carve up the filibuster. There is no scenario – absolutely none – where any Senate Democrat allows his or her party’s agenda to fail, just to avoid having to kill the filibuster. Again, these moderate Senate Democrats are making a point of very loudly getting it on the record now that they’re opposed to the idea, so that if they end up having to do it, they’ll have already laid the groundwork for being able to look like they only did it reluctantly – and not for partisan reasons. This is simply how politicians operate.
So why not just kill the filibuster now? Because there are Senate Democrats from moderate states who would rather not have to do that. There’s a good chance they won’t have to, and that every piece of Democratic legislation will still pass. Even if they do end up having to kill the filibuster, again, they’d rather not do it until they’re finished getting it on the record that they don’t want to have to do it. Just as Speaker Nancy Pelosi said as loudly as she could that she didn’t want to have to impeach Trump in 2019, right up until the minute she inevitably impeached him. It’s called positioning. It’s how all politicians, good guys and bad guys, operate. Any pundits who aren’t willing to acknowledge this reality, shouldn’t be pundits.
So maybe Senate Democrats will end up having to kill the filibuster and maybe they won’t. There’s no way to know for sure yet. But there is no scenario – absolutely none – where they don’t get their legislation passed. Through reconciliation, or changes to reconciliation rules, or the threat of getting rid of the filibuster, or actually getting rid of the filibuster, the Democratic Party’s legislative agenda will happen. You’d have to be unable to think even one or two obvious logical steps ahead to not be able to see this. Yet with an army of liberal pundits trying to convince you that Senate Democrats are doomed unless they do this one magical thing right this second, it’s understandable why it might be difficult to see the obvious logic over top of the ratings-driven noise.
The kicker of course is that when the Senate Democrats do in fact get all their legislation passed, the pundits will act shocked that it happened. Holy cow, you mean they changed a rule that they were clearly allowed to change? Who saw that coming? Oh my gosh, you mean those moderate Senate Democrats were merely posturing so they could look reticent in case they had to pull the trigger, as all politicians are always doing? And what do you mean, we ended up taking the bridge across the ravine instead of simply falling off the cliff like dopes? Utterly shocking!
That’s right, you’re once again being whipped into a panicked frenzy over imaginary doomsday scenarios that obviously aren’t going to happen, because the pundits feel like they need to boost their ratings right now. You’d think there are enough real stories going on for everyone to hit their ratings marks, without having to invent simplistic doomsday scenarios about something that’s obviously going to be worked around when the time comes. But then the media doesn’t exist to inform you, it exists for ratings.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report