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By Ethan Mariano

Freshman, Gettysburg

A majority in the United States Senate has long been coveted by the major political parties. The reason is obvious: the Senate is responsible, along with the House, for passing legislation that affects our fiscal policy, infrastructure, and social programs, among other duties. Carrying out these duties can have a major impact on our nation. The majority party has a lot of power in the Senate, as the majority party sets the agenda and has enough members to pass most resolutions by themselves. Fortunately, there are safeguards in place to help preserve the voice of the minority, one of them being the filibuster. The filibuster enables a minority of Senators to effectively stall, and often prevent entirely, a vote on a bill. The filibuster should not be abolished because it preserves the original intent of the Senate, protects from the tyranny of the majority, and encourages more bipartisan compromise.

The filibuster is essential for preserving the original intent of the Senate. When the Founding Fathers created our bicameral legislature, they intentionally made the two chambers radically different. The House of Representatives was created as a means to represent the people directly. The Senate, on the other hand, was to be a more sturdy, slow body. The goal was for the Senate to not simply adhere to the passions of society at any given point in time, as was written by James Madison in Federalist No. 62. The filibuster was later added, helping to preserve this principle. The use of the filibuster delays, and even blocks, legislation from passing. Cloture, the process required to end the filibuster, requires 60 of the 100 Senators to support the motion. This allows for further deliberation, as it did in the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. The original version was a harsh, emotional response to the 2008 market crash. The Republicans — who were the minority party at the time — failed to stop the bill but managed to lengthen the debate long enough for the Democratic Party to agree to amend the Volcker Rule, which separates the banks from trading funds and firms. The Dodd-Frank Act was a good compromise for both parties, and it was possible because the filibuster slowed down the process and forced deliberation.

The filibuster is also essential for protecting against the tyranny of the majority. As described in Federalist No. 51, the U.S. government was set up in a way to protect the minority from the will, and oppression, of the majority. Getting rid of the filibuster would leave very little power for the minority party to influence legislation. For example, it would allow the Democratic Party to pass  President Biden’s gun reform agenda even though Democrats only have a slim majority in the Senate. Biden’s agenda would significantly restrict the rights for Americans to purchase and possess firearms and ban what are often called assault weapons, affecting about 72-million-gun owners who would be left without a voice. The filibuster forces the majority party to the table with their minority counterparts. They still wield significantly more power and influence than the minority parties, but the minority is not disregarded.

Last, the filibuster forces bipartisan cooperation. Bills that are filibustered require 60 votes to enact cloture and force the Senators filibustering to stand down. Considering that the Republican majority from 2019-2021 was 53-47 and the current Democratic Majority depends on Vice President Harris’s tie-breaking vote, it is extremely unlikely for either party to gain a supermajority and be able to force through legislation in the near future. Therefore, the filibuster forces the parties to compromise if they want to pass any legislation. Often, the majority party will preserve the key aspects of the bill while also accommodating compromises that would never have been able to make it into the bill if not for the filibuster. Without the filibuster, compromises such as the Dodd-Frank Act in 2009 would not happen, as there would be nothing in the way of the majority’s rule. 

The filibuster is a necessary rule in the Senate. It slows the legislative process, which helps the body live up to its founding intent while protecting the minority, and incentivizes bipartisan compromises. Today’s society is increasingly political and increasingly polarized. Each side wants to advance legislation to shape America to their worldview. The filibuster ensures that society is increasingly crafted in a way that can work for every American.

 

 

 

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