Progressives have been pushing for a deep institutional overhaul of the American system of government for years, like packing the Court and eliminating the Electoral College. None has garnered more steam than the proposal to eliminate the filibuster, with President Biden becoming the latest endorser of the idea. Democrats must be careful, their filibuster-free dreamland might easily become their ruby-red Republican nightmare.
Democrats’ exasperation with the filibuster has been brewing for years, arguing that the procedure blocks the possibility of meaningful legislation to get through Congress, favors gridlock and that the status quo allows Republicans to hold control of the country even when they do not win elections. If the Filibuster is eliminated, the argument goes, then Democrats will be able to pass cherished progressive legislation in abortion, voting legislation, and the economy.
It is true that the filibuster has been used and abused by both sides of the political spectrum, Democrats filibustered a record-breaking number of nominations during the four years of the Trump White House, for example. However, eliminating it will probably not transform the Democrats’ legislative dreams into reality, nor will it unlock the chronic gridlock that characterizes the modern American political system. On the contrary, eliminating the filibuster would make it possible for progressives to live their worst political nightmare in just a few years.
Eliminate the filibuster is bad for the Democratic Party
Eliminating the filibuster only benefits Democrats if you work under the assumption that the Democratic Party will win and hold control of all the levers of power in Washington D.C. more often than not, this is a very triumphalist and misguided way to see politics. The truth is that the GOP holds an advantage over the Democrats in their chances to win both the Senate and the Presidency.
In fact, progressives have time and time again brought up both of these points when discussing their proposed institutional changes. The charge against the Senate is based on the idea that the institution has a bias in favor of small, rural states, which tend to overwhelmingly vote for the Republican Party. In fact, a memo from the very progressive Data for progress the Senate is an “irredeemable institution” with a 3-point bias in favor of the GOP. In fact, it took Democrats six long years to retake the majority in the Senate, and even then they managed to get the smallest majority possible.
"*" indicates required fields
Liberals have also used the same argument against the Electoral College, arguing for its reform or elimination as the institution currently gives the GOP more chances to win the Presidency even if they do not have achieved the majority of the vote, as both Trump and George W. Bush won their presidencies while losing the popular vote. The Executive holds an enormous influence over the legislative process as they can veto any law they don’t like.
If Republicans are more likely to win the Senate than not and also wield a temporary advantage in the electoral college, it makes no sense for Democrats to self-disarm and gives away the only institutional weapon they can use to stop or delay the GOP when they inevitably have full control of Washington D.C.
If the GOP is hell-bent—as many Democrats like to say—on imposing an unpopular agenda that goes against the rights of minority populations and democracy itself, wouldn’t eliminating the filibuster make it easier for the next Republican administration to do just that? How much do you think former President Trump would have done had the filibuster not existed?
History has already shown Democrats regretting opening Pandora’s box of eliminating the filibuster. In 2013, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid eliminated the filibuster for almost all judicial nominations, managing to get three federal justices confirmed over Republican objections, Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) warned Reid that he will live to “regret this,” and that was exactly what happened. Democrats got some federal judges appointed, but a few years down the line the GOP used the same logic as Reid and confirmed three SCOTUS nominees with a simple majority vote.
The cliché definition of madness is to try the same thing and expect different results, well, eliminating the Filibuster and expecting different results than what happened last time it was eliminated would be a politically mad thing to do.
A 2025 filibuster-free world, a progressive nightmare
Finally, I propose a brief thought exercise for fellow liberal and Democratic friends. Imagine the progressives are successful in their efforts and the filibuster gets gutted this year, the Democrats manage to get a few bills signed into law in the dying days of the current Congress, including the voting legislation overhaul or the codification of abortion into law. Kudos! the Democratic Party has won, and there is nothing that can go wrong from now on, right?
Well, of course not. As gas prices and inflation soar, the Republicans are poised to take back at least the House of Representatives and have at least a 50-50 chance to recover the Senate. Regardless, Biden’s legislative chances are doomed to fail as he will not get them through both chambers of Congress, and the Republicans will use their newfound powers as a launchpad for the 2024 campaign.
As progressives have claimed before, the GOP has an advantage in both the Senate and the Electoral college, and the 2024 Senate map is truly a nightmare for Democratic strategists across the nation. The Democrats will have to defend seats in Arizona, Nevada, Montana, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. Out of these states, there are three that are hostile to democrats and the rest will be either tossup or lean-Republican seats. It is easy to see how the GOP could go from 50 seats to 58 in just one election cycle, and there will be no filibuster to stop them.
Well, but even if Democrats lose the Senate they can keep the Presidency right? That is far from certain. It is not that hard to think that a Republican candidate, whether that is Trump or a popular and successful governor from a sunny southern state, will have a very good chance to win the White House, especially after the tumultuous and inflation-ridden years of the unpopular Biden administration. Even if Biden does not run, any Democrat will have the baggage of his administration around their neck.
Imagine the very likely scenario of 2025 where the newly-inaugurated Republican President has control of both the House and the Senate. During the Trump years he only managed to get one piece of legislation through because of the filibuster, but this time there is no such thing. The only thing stopping Republicans will be themselves.
At that moment, Democrats will remember yet again the warnings McConnell gave Harry Reid in 2013, and admit with a grim look that he was right.
Daniel is a Political Science and Economics student from the University of South Florida. He worked as a congressional intern to Rep. Gus Bilirakis (FL-12) from January to May 2020. He also is the head of international analysis at Politiks // Daniel es un estudiante de Cs Políticas y Economía en la Universidad del Sur de la Florida. Trabajo como pasante legislativo para el Representate Gus Bilirakis (FL-12) desde enero hasta mayo del 2020. Daniel también es el jefe de análisis internacional de Politiks.