Scott Tibbs

The filibuster is valuable and should be preserved

By Scott Tibbs, November 12, 2021

Every time control of the Senate changes hands, there are people in the majority who start talking about abolishing the filibuster. Republicans made noise about it when George W. Bush was President, Democrats talked about it during the Obama administration, Donald Trump wanted to get rid of it and now Democrats are in favor of eliminating it again. Each time, the alignment of the opposition also changes. For too many, the debate over the filibuster is not at all rooted in principle and is only about a partisan desire for political power.

That does not mean that there are not serious policy issues to be discussed surrounding the filibuster. There is value is slowing down the legislative process, so that compromise can be reached. That may not be ideal for good legislation, but it can be very important in watering down bad legislation. It is wise to accept that we will not get everything we want while our party is in power if it also limits the damage done when the opposition is in power. The founding fathers designed the branches to check the other branches. Gridlock is not an unforeseen flaw in the system. Gridlock is a feature of the system.

Eliminating the filibuster could create chaos for the American economy, with policy lurching from one side to the other every two, four, or eight years. One thing business needs is predictability. If regulations and tax rates are constantly changing, that could seriously hamper economic growth over both the long and short term. This is to say nothing of the social chaos that will come with legislation to change social policy.

Here is one reform we should make: A filibuster should actually be a talking filibuster. Make the opposition party actually hold the floor and stop all legislation from going forward. This means the business of the Senate grinds to a halt during a true filibuster - not only does movement on the controversial legislation stop, movement on all legislation stops. The "filibuster" today is not what it was originally intended to be, and it should change back. That reform would cause there to be fewer filibusters.

Of course, most policy should be made at the state level, and we should devolve federal policy to the state and local level in submission to the Tenth Amendment. But if we are going to have policy made at the federal level, then we should have the process be as slow and deliberative as possible. We live in a nation of 350 million people that stretches across the continent, covering rural, dense urban areas and everything in between. We should not pass policy that is going to impose the same rules on communities with vastly different populations, cultures and needs. But if we must do that, it should be a slow process.

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