President Donald J. Trump (R-New York) made an excellent policy suggestion in July that progressives should wholeheartedly support. Trump urged that the United States Senate “kill the filibuster rule” with the so-called nuclear option.
Under the current Senate rules; one member or a small group of senators can delay legislation indefinitely by filibustering or speaking against it, or worse by threatening to filibuster. The only way to stop a filibuster is to get a supermajority of 60 Senators to vote to override it. Since it is it’s almost impossible to get 60 Senators to agree on anything – overriding a filibuster is extraordinarily hard.
Many of us will be familiar with this concept from the classic film Mr. Smith Goes to Washington; in which a heroic Jimmy Stewart uses the filibuster to thwart the plans of an evil political boss. In real life, the filibuster is a simple parliamentary rule rooted in archaic tradition – not the Constitution.
The filibuster is not law, and the Senate can easily repeal it by changing the rules. Many legal scholars and political theorists have long demanded the filibuster’s demise.
Why Trump wants the Senate to Go Nuclear
Trump is frustrated because the filibuster is preventing the Senate from implementing his agenda. He is demanding that Senators adopt the so-called “nuclear option” and use it to kill off the filibuster once and for all.
“Don’t give up Republican Senators, the World is watching: Repeal & Replace…and go to 51 votes (nuke option), get Cross State Lines & more.” -Trump tweeted at 5:37 AM on July 30, 2017.
The Senate went nuclear twice before; the first time was in 2013 when then-Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) went to it to get President Barrack Obama’s (D-Illinois) executive and judicial appointments approved. Going nuclear enabled the Democratic majority in the Senate to overcome Republican obstructionism. More recently Republicans used the nuclear option to ensure Neil Gorsuch’s appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year.
Trump wants the Senate to use the nuclear option to get his Obamacare repeal proposals approved. The President correctly realizes that the filibuster will enable Democrats; and a handful of anti-Trump Republicans, to block his agenda.
Killing the Filibuster would make the Senate work again
Progressives should not oppose Trump on the filibuster instead, they should embrace his demands for the nuclear option for a simple reason: to make the Senate work again.
Embracing the nuclear option and killing the filibuster would make it easier for Progressives to get important reforms; such as “Medicare for All,” a $15 an hour minimum wage, and Social Security expansion passed, when Democrats get a Senate majority.
Killing the filibuster would make the Senate run far more smoothly because the power and influence of egomaniacal grandstanders; like John McCain (R-Arizona) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas), would be reduced. Cruz was able to block approval of the budget using filibuster powers, a few years back. InsteThe filibuster is not law they would have to get with the team and work with everybody else to get anything done.
A filibuster-free Senate would be more democratic because decisions would represent the majority of voters. Small-ideologically motivated minorities would not be in a position to block legislation or control the debate. Senators would have to start behaving like adults and working with each other if there was no filibuster.
Killing the filibuster would help the Senate return to its originally constitutionally mandated purpose – to provide equal representation to all states. Under the current system, a few states get greater representation than others; because egotistical senators can use the filibuster to hog the limelight, and give themselves more influence.
Finally, the President would have a stronger incentive to work with the Senate, because it would be in a better position to block his programs and appointments. The chief executive would have to go to Capitol Hill and actually talk to and work with Senators to get things done.
The Filibuster Prevented Medicare for All
The filibuster is the reason we do not have single-payer healthcare or greatly expanded Medicare right now. In his excellent memoir Al Franken Giant of the Senate, U.S. Senator Al Franken (D-Minnesota) recalled how the filibuster prevented single-payer and led to the mess known as Obamacare.
Democrats wanted to implement a true national health insurance system instead of Obamacare, Franken wrote. They were unable to because they lacked 60 votes. Instead, they had to implement Obamacare; even though Democrats held 57 Senate seats back in 2010. Democrats had enough votes to create “Medicare for All” in 2010 – if there had been no filibuster.
During the Obamacare debate, Democrats also proposed that the age for entry into Medicare be lowered to 55 (it is currently 65), Franken wrote. They were unable to do that because one senator; Joe Lieberman (I-Connecticut), opposed it.
Lowering the Medicare age would have reduced insurance rates for all Americans; by moving large numbers of older and sicker Americans onto cheaper Medicare. Why Lieberman did this is unclear; one reason might be that a major health insurer, Aetna (NYSE: AET) had its headquarters in Hartford, Connecticut, back in 2010.
The Filibuster is bad for Democrats and America
What is clear is that it was the filibuster that gave us Obamacare and prevented Democrats from implementing single-payer health insurance back in 2010.
The results of that debacle were devastating for Democrats. Voters punished incumbent Democrats; who inflicted Obamacare on them, and put a Republican majority in their place.
If there was no filibuster, we might have single-payer and a Democratic majority in the U.S. Senate right now. Therefore, if progressives want to see their agenda become law they should embrace the nuclear option and join with Trump to implement it.
Killing the filibuster would give America an effective Congress capable of solving the nation’s problems. Since there is no filibuster in the U.S. House of Representative, the nuclear option would put the two houses on a level playing field. Leaving the filibuster in place will make it easy for right-wing Republicans to prevent any future progressive legislation from becoming law.