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We’ll Never Get Anything Done With the Filibuster

Mitt Romney's letter to The Washington Post defending Senate rules tells us the score.

Gage Skidmore/ Flickr

Sen. Mitt Romney wrote a Tuesday op-ed for The Washington Post titled “Filibuster or bust: maintaining the minority’s power in the Senate is crucial.” This is an unsurprising sentiment from Romney on several levels, the most obvious of which is that he opposes eliminating the filibuster because he is a Republican who does not want the Democrats (currently technically in power) to be able to use that power.

Romney, however, has constructed this long argument from the (false) perspective that he is actually just looking out for the Democrats, that because they are very likely to get crushed in the midterms and probably in 2024, not having a filibuster would let a GOP-led trifecta govern essentially by fiat. Romney writes:

Consider how different the Senate would be without the filibuster. Whenever one party replaced the other as the majority, tax and spending priorities, safety net programs, national security policy and cultural interests would careen from one extreme to the other, creating uncertainty and unpredictability for families, employers and our partners around the world.

Later on, he writes:

There is a reasonable chance that Republicans could win both houses of Congress in the next election cycle and, further, that Donald Trump could be elected president once again in 2024. Have Democrats thought through what it would mean for them for Trump to be entirely unrestrained, with the Democratic minority having no power whatsoever? If Democrats eliminate the filibuster now, they — and the country — may soon regret it very much.

This particular excerpt immediately went viral on Twitter, because as many people pointed out, it sounds great. It would be great to have a political system where, when people voted for change, that change was actually able to happen. What Romney doesn’t say—because it is taboo for basically anyone to mention—is that minority rule only benefits Republicans because conservatives in this country are the minority. If you break it straight down the line with a two-party system then the Democrats, such as they are, win. However, to get there you have to do a lot of things, namely either abolishing the Senate (hard) or adding more senators from new blue states like D.C. or Puerto Rico (slightly easier). As yet, there is no appetite to do any of these things, including abolishing the filibuster, because above all else, most of the people in power agree with Mitt Romney. As he points out, this is essentially what Biden believed for decades until it became incredibly clear to him that the filibuster was going to ruin his legacy in the office he worked ever so hard and long to get.

On Monday, Biden admonished Republicans for abusing the rules to stall his voting rights protections—and opened up some daylight for the failings of the rules he once defended.

“The threat to our democracy is so great that we must find a way to pass these voting rights bills,” he said in Atlanta, per The New York Times. “Debate them. Vote. Let the majority prevail. And if that bare minimum is blocked, we have no option but to change the Senate rules, including getting rid of the filibuster.”

It’s movement for Biden, but those two quotes from Romney summarize the counter-arguments we can expect from the Republicans. On one side of politics, you have a raving fascist consortium of special interests who are eager to weaponize a small minority of the country’s theocratic zeal to establish a de facto authoritarian state, and on the other side you have a moderate consortium of special interests who are largely motivated by keeping a status quo that preserves the interests of capital without sliding far enough into extremism that their hold over governance starts to break down.

Please don’t mistake this for “there’s no difference between Democrats and Republicans.” Among the major political parties, only the Democrats can claim any leaders who at least on some level want to improve the aggregate quality of life for the American people. The Republicans have none, that’s their whole deal. And yet what both sides have done over the past 150 years or so is design a system where the will of the majority of the American people is largely inconsequential to the functioning of our democracy. Eliminating the filibuster with the only party who even pretends to care about that in control would be one step toward changing that system.

The other rebuttal to Romney’s stupid argument, of course, is that when Republicans reclaim a safe trifecta (House, Senate, Prez) in ’24 or ’28, McConnell or whoever his successor is will destroy the filibuster at the drop of a hat and use it to usher in the worst single-party regime the country has ever seen. They will do so because the Democrats could not or would not harness that power when they had it, and all of our lives will be the worse for it.