Steve Benen (MSNBC/MaddowBlog) explains how Sinema’s case against the filibuster isn’t getting any better. To hear Kyrsten Sinema tell it, leaving filibuster rules alone is what’s “best for our democracy.” That’s a difficult pitch to take seriously.
It is no secret that Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) is one of the shrinking number of Senate Democrats fiercely opposed to reforming the institution’s filibuster rules. It’s also no secret that the Arizonan is under considerable pressure to reconsider, especially with filibuster abuses standing in the way of voting-rights legislation.
But as the debate continues to unfold, Sinema continues to make the case that she’s right and those pressuring her from the left are wrong. The trouble is, her case just isn’t very good.
In April, the centrist Democratic senator said, rather than restoring the institution’s majority-rule traditions, members should simply “change their behavior.” And if Republicans’ “behavior” doesn’t change? Well, then the legislative process will remain sclerotic, Americans seeking policy solutions will go without, and abuses in the Senate will continue indefinitely.
For that matter, it’s curious for someone whose literal job it is to write laws to argue that rule changes are a poor substitute for asking people to simply do the right thing.
When this taking point didn’t prove persuasive, Sinema also said that the filibuster “was created as a tool to bring together members of different parties to find compromise.” Senators are certainly entitled to their own opinions, but they’re not entitled to just make up historical details that don’t exist – and the Arizonan’s argument about how the filibuster was created was just spectacularly and demonstrably untrue.
Now, the Senate Democrat is trying a slightly different tack:
Sinema’s office told NBC News her support for the filibuster is “not based on the importance of any particular policy,” but rather “based on what is best for our democracy, including the fact that the filibuster helps protect the country from wild swings back and forth between opposing policy poles.”
Let’s take those one at a time.
First, there’s no reason to assume a majority-rule Senate will necessarily produce wild policy swings. Not only is this at odds with what history shows us – remember, filibuster abuses are a fairly modern phenomenon – but both parties have recently struggled to put together 50 votes for major partisan priorities, reinforcing the kind of challenges associated with dramatic governing changes. Consider what happened, for example, when Republicans tried to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act in 2017.
Besides, the power should remain in voters’ hands. If they elect policymakers who go too far with “wild” policy swings, voters in the next election cycle can elect new officials to do the opposite.
Second, there’s Sinema’s suggestion that mandatory super-majorities for nearly all legislation is what’s “best for our democracy.”
Perhaps “democracy” wasn’t the best choice of words in this pitch.
Americans can elect one party to lead the White House, the Senate, and the House, with polls showing robust public support for that party’s legislative agenda. But thanks to filibuster abuses, that party won’t be able to pursue its own governing vision unless some members of the Senate minority agree to let them.
Jon Chait added this morning that in the current Senate, “New laws require 60 votes, but existing programs can be defunded with 51. Judges, who can be appointed with a mere 51 votes, can strike down laws that required 60 to pass.”
How in the world is this what’s “best for our democracy”?
The Senate was not designed to work this way. It traditionally didn’t even try to work this way. Given the status quo, it obviously doesn’t work this way. (Sinema herself has said the chamber appears “broken.”)
Suggesting that democracy, of all things, benefits from ongoing procedural abuses that makes legislating so difficult is a mistake.