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Out: Ending the filibuster. In: "Filibuster reform"

Following the end of the 2020 elections, we heard a lot of chatter from Democrats about ending the filibuster if they took control of the Senate. Much of that talk appeared to die down after Joe Biden’s inauguration, but according to some recent reports from Capitol Hill, it never went away entirely. At the moment, everyone’s attention seems to be focused on a combination of the massive pandemic relief bill and the hearings investigating the January 6th riot. But that’s not going to hold forever. Senate Democrats have their eyes on several other “big moves” involving ethics reform, revamping the voting process and gun control. But with no Republican support and only one hesitant Democrat needed to torpedo any liberal legislation, some in the Democrats’ progressive caucus are expressing their concerns that the upper chamber will turn into a “legislative graveyard” for Joe Biden’s agenda. To address that problem, they’re still pushing for what’s now being described as “filibuster reform.” I suppose that phrase tested better than “killing the filibuster.” (The Hill)

Liberal Democrats are growing more and more worried that the Senate will serve as a legislative graveyard for President Biden’s agenda unless he and other centrists rally behind doing away with the filibuster.

The tensions for now are mostly under the surface as the party approaches an initial victory under Biden: passage into law of a giant $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill…

Yet this initial victory will cover up for fears among Democrats that big-ticket items passed in the House will die in the Senate unless the party greases the gears for change by ending the filibuster.

Some of these people appear to be completely incapable of learning from their own history. The filibuster was whittled away in stages, with the authors of such maneuvers (in both parties) acting as if they were never going to be in the minority again. When was the last time either party held sixty seats in the Senate? (It was 2009 and it only lasted for two years. Prior to that you’d have to back to 1978.)

The point is, you need to be careful what you wish for. In 2009, the Democrats rammed through a bunch of liberal legislation with virtually no bipartisan support, just as they’re talking about doing now. Two years later the American voters rewarded them with a drubbing so bad that some of them still have boot marks on their backsides from it. Does Chuck Schumer’s crew honestly believe that couldn’t happen again?

Here’s the other thing to keep in mind and it should be readily apparent to anyone considering this. Once the last vestiges of the filibuster covering routine legislation are gone, it’s never coming back. Not. Ever. Those rules can only be changed with the consent of the majority. And in case anyone needs to have it spelled out, the majority is never going to vote to limit its own power. They will only vote to increase their power or, at a minimum, maintain the status quo.

So far, Joe Biden has remained mum on the question. The Hill reports that he once again didn’t take any questions during the Democrats’ Tuesday luncheon call. He didn’t bring up the issue of “filibuster reform” and none of the Senators had the opportunity to ask him. Chuck Schumer similarly played coy about killing off the filibuster, only saying that the Democrats were going to “figure out the best way to get big, bold action on a whole lot of fronts.”

Some may take that as a hopeful sign that he plans to endorse such a change, but if that’s what he meant, he probably should have just said it. Still, it might not matter anyway. Both Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema have already said they oppose ending the filibuster. A few others, including Chris Coons and Tom Carper have said they might not be on board with the idea unless Joe Biden comes out in support of it himself.

If this effort dies in the cradle, then the Senate may indeed become the “legislative graveyard” that progressives dread. They may be able to ram through the COVID relief bill via reconciliation, but as they are already learning, there are limits on how much that can be used. Absent some other scheme, they may actually have to start compromising on some proposals to gain some GOP support. And wouldn’t that just be the most unusual thing ever?