US Politics

“The Filibuster Should Be Painful”

Joe Manchin appeared on Fox News Sunday and said he supports the filibuster, but it should come at a cost:

“The filibuster should be painful, it really should be painful and we’ve made it more comfortable over the years,” he said on “Fox News Sunday.” “Maybe it has to be more painful.”

“If you want to make it a little bit more painful, make him stand there and talk,” Manchin said. “I’m willing to look at any way we can, but I’m not willing to take away the involvement of the minority.”

Which echoes something I’ve been thinking for some time.

Yes, the filibuster is a hack. But what it does is give the minority — sometimes a minority of one — the power to block legislation. And yes, some legislation, even legislation with majority support, is bad and needs to be blocked. I’m aware that this paragraph would sound a lot better if it weren’t for the fact that the second most famous filibuster (after James Stewart’s) is Strom Thurmond’s filibuster of the Civil Rights Act. But let’s posit for the sake of argument that some legislation is bad and ought to be stopped.

The talking filibuster does that. But at some point in the 1960s, the Senate started switching to the “procedural filibuster”. In contrast to the stay-up-all-night-talking-without-a-bathroom-break, or “talking” filibuster, the procedural one basically means role-playing one: one Senator announces their intention to filibuster, the others roll for WIS take a vote on whether to make the first Senator shut up, and then either stop debate as if the clock had been run out, or tell the Senator‘s character to put a sock in it and take a vote on the original bill.

The problem with this is that it’s too easy: any contrarian dickbag can derail the Senate with no cost to themselves. That’s like having the emergency brake on a train accessible to toddlers, with no fines or repercussions for misusing it: unless you live in a community of saints, that train would never go anywhere. And so it is with the Senate these days. So returning to the talking filibuster would help ensure that legislation is blocked only when the minority feels very strongly about it; strongly enough to stay up all night talking without a break.

At the same time, as I said, it’s a hack. In particular, the talking filibuster would tend to favor younger, healthier senators. Perhaps a different solution could be worked out, like maybe Senators are given one filibuster coupon at the beginning of each session, and once it’s used up, it’s gone. Or maybe they can get one super-vote that’s worth ten regular votes, but then they forfeit the next ten votes. These are just off the top of my head, and I’m sure they can be abused as well. But I would like to stop letting every dumbass reactionary block legislation, so things can actually move forward.