If Democrats hope to block the Republican agenda in the executive and legislative branches, they may need an old tool of the Senate – the filibuster. It allows dissenting senators to block bills and nominees backed by the majority. Or, as Republican Rep. Bill Flores of Texas explained on the Standard yesterday:
"It prevents the Senate from ... its Constitutional responsibilities. And so what I say is, majority leader Mitch McConnell, if he's the majority leader, needs to get rid of the filibuster. We're going to need to get rid of it in order to get the Supreme Court appointees. We're going to need it to pass the appropriations bills we want.”
The Senate can change its own rules. In 2013, Senate Democrats did just that. But Flores' suggestion takes things a step further.
Lawrence Rothenberg, a professor of political science at the University of Rochester, says the basic idea behind weakening the filibuster is simply to make the majority stronger.
“The downside, obviously, is going to be that you’re going to have potentially more violent swings in policy,” Rothenberg says. “You could have, for example, executive appointments that seem considerably more extreme than those that we’re used to.”
Filibusters were initially created to speed up the Senate. In the 1920s, any senator was able to block the operations of the body, so the filibuster agreement was intended to prevent any one individual from stopping Senate actions.
“It has subsequently, of course, become a symbol of the slowness and the inability of the Senate to get things done,” Rothenberg says.
Rothenberg says a shift in filibuster rules could be an indicator of how political parties are becoming increasingly polarized.
“The Republicans tend, as we know, to have gone further to the right, the Democrats further to the left,” Rothenberg says. “This, therefore, has created this conflict where it’s very, very hard to fashion the kind of super-majorities you need to move forward.”
If Republicans changed filibustering rules, it wouldn’t be the first time. In addition to the Democrats’ changes in 2013, Republicans also threatened to eliminate filibustering during the Bush administration. They backed down after a compromise was worked out. Rothenberg says he wouldn’t be surprised if they tried to change the rules again.
“I could easily see fairly dramatic changes in the filibuster rule when it could be applicable,” Rothenberg says.
Post by Sunny Sone.