Since President Joe Biden took office and the United States Senate flipped blue, a lot of Democrats have thought about removing the filibuster, a procedure used in the senate to delay or block the vote on a bill, to ensure policymaking can actually happen. The way the filibuster currently works in the U.S. Senate is that without reaching a 60 vote cloture threshold, 41 or more senators can hold up legislation by filibustering. This applies to almost all bills in the Senate and prevents legislation from reaching the president’s desk. If, as Americans, we are to remove the filibuster, it must be coupled with immense safeguards to ensure the continuation of democracy and rule of law.
It is no secret that the Republican Party of today stands in stark contrast to Paul Ryan’s GOP or the party of 10 or 20 years ago. Today’s GOP is heavily focused on protecting Trumpism and denying all the criticism surrounding that crowd. We have seen that they will go to great lengths to protect former President Donald Trump and his views at any and all costs insofar as they tried, unsuccessfully, to overturn what experts have dubbed the most secure election in our nation’s history. If Democrats remove the filibuster and the current version of the GOP ever returns to power, there could be dire and irreversible consequences for this country.
The first thing Democrats would need to do to prevent this is to ensure statehood for both the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. This is for two reasons: It would tilt the Senate more to the left and it would act in the core interest of democracy.
D.C. and Puerto Rico both have progressive possibilities that Democrats can utilize, the former especially so. It would be crucial for Democrats to gain the extra three or four Senate seats from these two new states to shore up their growing majority. With these states added, the flimsy one or two-seat majority that has become more common in recent years would turn more solidly blue, and, without a filibuster, the Democrats could ensure that policymaking is actually accomplished.
However, without these two prospective states and their senators, we could be looking at a Senate run by Republicans committed to blocking any legislation Democrats try to promote, especially when coupled with the filibuster. Thus, it is incredibly important that if the filibuster is removed, it is coupled with D.C. and Puerto Rico’s statehood and subsequent congressional representation.
Their statehood will also ensure that democracy is perpetuated throughout the country. D.C. has about 700,000 residents and Puerto Rico has another 3 million. These are individuals who pay taxes to the U.S. government, yet do not have voting representation in Congress, which goes against one of the core values of this country: no taxation without representation. It is morally wrong to continuously take from these people without giving them what is rightfully theirs. This is an argument that Democrats can lean on if they need to find the right framing for this proposal.
The second biggest safeguard which should follow filibuster removal would be to reform voting rights and pass a new Voting Rights Act. Democrats in the House have taken great steps to make this a reality by proposing the For the People Act, which will be voted on soon. This proposal would create more transparency in donations, attempt to minimize big money interests’ impact on politics, require same-day voter registration in many places, allow congressional districts to be drawn by non-partisan committees and many other provisions to increase access to voting for all eligible individuals.
Not only is this bill good in theory, but when polled, a majority of Americans had a favorable opinion on the proposal, with 68% of those surveyed across party lines saying they would be in favor and only 16% in opposition. It is clear that there is already public support for this change — the Democrats should capitalize on it.
All of these measures have come in response to an unprecedented level of voter suppression attempts by Republicans across the country. As of Feb. 19, the Brennan Center for Justice found that there have been 253 bills — majorly spearheaded by Republican representatives — introduced to limit voting rights in 43 states in 2021, with some seeking to disenfranchise millions of eligible voters. This shows the levels to which some members of the GOP may go in order to retain power, namely stifling the voice of the people.
The two aforementioned measures that Democrats in Congress could work toward without the filibuster would greatly change the party’s dynamics in the coming years. The Senate would be more firmly in the Democratic column for the foreseeable future as more people casting legal ballots leads to more liberal candidates winning, and they would have an advantage in the two new states. Republicans would be forced to move away from divisive Trump-fueled hate and back towards their laissez-faire policy platform, in hopes of recapturing their previously moderate voter base or risk losing power until a new generation of Republicanism is born.
While there are potential risks of opening the door for Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to regain control of a post-filibuster Senate, passing these two measures can ensure that actual policy making becomes the primary goal of politics in this country once again.
Shubhum Giroti can be reached at email@example.com.
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