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Build Back Better Filibusters

February 1st, 2021 by dk

Build back better filibusters

The trouble with Democrats is that they care more about the institutions they run than they do about winning. It’s a severe handicap in the current political climate. Refusing to acknowledge this asymmetrical warfare only guarantees defeat.

Activists on the political left are understandably tired of losing. They want the Senate to blow up the filibuster so that Democrats can pass legislation with a simple majority. They rightly point out that Mitch McConnell would do it if he could. Trouble is, he could and he didn’t. 

There are no sitting Senators who wish they were in the House instead. The collegiality of the Senate sets it apart. That culture cannot be separated from its traditions. The minority party retains significant power. Some claim this “culture” is a luxury the country can no longer afford. Ending it is what the majoritarian mob wants.

It’s not a good move and it’s not a good look for the Democrats. Biden’s campaign slogan should be applied to the filibuster: Build Back Better. The trick will be to do it using hardball tactics. Only hardball gets Republicans’ attention and respect.

Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Budget Committee Chair Bernie Sanders must declare clear terms for Republicans. “Find us ten Republicans who will vote their approval for the COVID package or we’ll use the reconciliation path, passing the legislation without you. We’ll still preserve the filibuster, along with our prerogative to kill it later if necessary.”

If Republicans play nice and the Senate musters a supermajority for Biden’s first 100 days, Democrats should restore the 60-vote minimum for filling any Supreme Court vacancies. This would reverse the recent trend, not because Democrats are weaklings, but because they have the courage to make our institutions stronger.

The summer can then be spent on something not on Biden’s agenda — welcoming Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C. as our newest states. This will greatly benefit Democrats in the Senate, but that’s beside the point. It’s the right thing to do. It’s past time for us to incorporate our territories into our states. We should end “taxation without representation.”

Again, Republicans should be put on notice. Statehood can be granted (using the so-called Tennessee Plan without a Constitutional Convention) with 60 votes or with 50. Their reward, once a new flag design is underway? Restoring the filibuster to its original form, undoing all the moves made by McConnell and Democrat Harry Reid before him.

The filibuster should be built back better to its original form, which required actual talking. It also required Senators — at least those in the filibustering party — to stay in the chamber and listen to their colleague talk. It was a good system and it worked that way for over a century. Only recently did the Senate begin equating the threat of a filibuster with an actual  filibuster.

Would these moves prevent Republicans from killing the filibuster altogether the next time they regain a majority? No. But making the case to reverse directions is harder than simply accelerating a current trend. Democrats should strengthen our institutions when they can.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at

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