The left is wrong: The filibuster is good for democracy

There are, of course, other benefits to the filibuster. It helps encourage collaboration between the parties. Partly in response to the diversity of the United States as a federated republic, many elements of its constitutional infrastructure encourage the process of buy-in across party lines. This collaborative buy-in makes change harder but also makes it more permanent. One side effect of the filibuster is that it encourages Congress to work on areas with broad agreement and defer confrontations over divisive issues. In a society as heterogeneous as the United States, that has certain advantages. The existence of the filibuster helps ensure that a temporary majority of 51 percent cannot impose its will upon the whole of the nation. Where the federal government is deadlocked on key issues, states have an opportunity to devise their own local solutions.

Moreover, the Senate still can act where there is a consensus. A sweeping revision of No Child Left Behind was shepherded through Congress in 2015. When the coronavirus crisis hit, Congress moved swiftly to pass relief measures (although partisan ambition blocked later relief packages in the lead-up to the election). It is a conventional talking point that Biden’s legislative agenda is “dead” if the filibuster remains in place, but that seems a deeply contestable proposition. Utah Republican Mitt Romney has proposed a universal child allowance, and Republican critics of such a benefit — such as Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Mike Lee (Utah) — have supported an expanded child tax credit. It certainly seems as though some kind of family-policy effort could garner 10 Republican votes in the Senate. Leading populist Republicans in the Senate, particularly Tom Cotton (Ark.), as well as top Democrats, have called for rebuilding American supply chains. A disparate coalition in both the House and the Senate could implement some version of corporate reform for the technology sector. Ironically, going nuclear could make consensus action on those issues more difficult by blowing up the collaborative norms of the Senate.

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