Sen. Mitt Romney, in a deeply partisan Halloween Washington Post op-ed, argues that the filibuster, “the Senate’s minority empowerment, has meant that our nation’s policies inevitably tack toward the center.” That is untrue. In 1922, 1937 and 1950, anti-lynching bills passed the House, had majority Senate support and the support of 60% of Americans. But segregationist senators, mostly Dixiecrats, filibustered the bills. Lynching is hardly centrist.
Most Americans supported reasonable gun legislation after the Newtown massacre, but debate didn’t happen on the proposed bill - the chamber was virtually empty - yet the Senate minority invoked the principle of unlimited debate. The norm now is that Senate Republicans use the filibuster, or merely threaten to, on a myriad of issues- for Presidential nominees, to cripple legislation and government agencies. GOP filibusters blocked a Paycheck Fairness bill, the Dream Act, the Disclose Act, bills to close tax loopholes rewarding corporations to offshore jobs, expansion of Social Security benefits and, recently, to thwart Biden’s agenda. The filibuster, under McConnell, is used primarily to obstruct the majority when Democrats are in power, so that government is rendered ineffective.
Our Founding Fathers warned against minority rule. Franklin wrote, a system where “the minority overpowers the majority would be contrary to the Common Practice of Assemblies in all Countries and Ages.”
Jefferson wrote: “It is my principle that the will of the majority should always prevail.”
Hamilton wrote: “If a pertinacious minority can control the opinion of a majority, the result would be “tedious delays; continual negotiation and intrigue; contemptible compromises of the public good.”
Madison opined that if a minority were allowed to block a majority, “the fundamental principle of free government would be reversed. It would be no longer the majority that would rule; the power would be transferred to the minority.”
Romney erroneously states that Democrats wish to eliminate the filibuster, never mentioning that Democrats favor filibuster reform. Proposals include a talking filibuster where Senators are required to be on the floor, actively debating the bill and with cloture (a vote to end debate) and then a vote on the bill; a requirement that instead of requiring 60 votes to end debate, require 41 Senators to continue debate; carve outs for items like the debt ceiling or strengthening and preserving our democracy. Manchin’s recent compromise voting rights/ protection against election subversion bill is not partisan, as Romney claims, and yet the GOP continues its obstruction. Romney writes, “anytime legislation is crafted and sponsored exclusively by one party, it is obviously an unserious partisan effort,” but he omits that the 2017 tax boondoggle to the uberwealthy, which he voted for, and which ballooned the federal deficit, passed only with GOP support.
The filibuster should be modified, soon. In a majority rule Senate, if the minority decides to do nothing, the majority will still be able to conduct the nation’s business and restore faith in Congress’ ability to get needed work done. Legislation supported by most Americans can be debated and voted on. Listen to our founding fathers, Sen. Romney! Also, for the senator and anyone wishing to learn more about the history of the filibuster, please read Adam Jentleson’s “Kill Switch.”
Rochelle Kaplan, Cottonwood Heights, is a retired high school teacher and board member of the Alliance for a Better Utah Education Fund.