55-Vote Filibuster

The upper chamber’s filibuster debate is a double-edged sword; eliminating the filibuster all together would essentially put the Senate in the same position as the house, especially if the Senate ends up welcoming senators who are farther to the left or the right than their predecessors. The nuclear option of complete elimination would award the majority party the keys to the kingdom and the Senate minority would become just as powerless as the house minority. This could lead to a vicious cycle of handing off that supremacy back and forth between parties. The Democrats could pass a health care or immigration bill with fifty votes plus the Vice President, but as soon as control of the chamber flipped, such legislation could be instantly repealed without the bat of an eye. The two houses of Congress could deadlock into a game of flip flop, leading the country nowhere but to a grinding halt as party line votes skyrocketed.

But the argument to do away with the 60 vote threshold is really just as compelling. Reaching the requirement to end debate is an extremely high bar, and its existence makes the passage of any bill a huge uphill battle. There are certainly Republicans willing to work with Democrats and vice versa, but politically, the Republican minority’s main aim has been obstructionism. How can a political party stay in power if they get nothing done? Even if it is the result of blatant obstructionism. The fine line to walk towards a functioning federal government thus requires the consideration of the minority voice, while also establishing a system that allows for the passing of legislation on big, important issues. Though the problem is extremely complex, I believe the solution to be simple: a 55-vote filibuster. Lowering the threshold to 55 votes to end debate simultaneously keeps the power of the minority alive while also giving the majority a more feasible shot at reasonable bipartisan legislation. Even a leader as staunch as Mitch McConnell likely wouldn’t be able to flex his obstructive power enough to keep 5 moderate republican senators from breaking away and working to find common ground with their democratic colleagues. And while this is written at a time when we have a 51-50 Senate, this solution holds steady even if and when control of the chamber flips. In short, the Senate would be able to overcome the clots and get the blood flowing again, while still giving the minority a fair voice in Congress. 

But of course, there are currently more popular ways to reform the filibuster. One of the leading ideas at the present is returning the Senate to a talking filibuster. This would force minority senators to band together and plan out their actual filibuster strategy. If used effectively, minority senators could keep the logjam of attaining cloture going even though they would be forced to physically waste time on the Senate floor. Hypothetically, they could hand off standing and speaking duties and then wait until a majority of the Senate is absent, call for a quorum vote, and being that there is not a quorum present, return the proposed legislation to square one. Even more powerfully, a talking filibuster would still be able to crash the Senate into legislative deadlines thus throwing the proposed bill or amendment to the next Senate session. While a talking filibuster would force minority senators to hold the floor, and make a public case about the purpose of their stall tactic, it really doesn’t have a built-in motivation to pursue bipartisanship. Instead, a spotlight would be cast on senators filibustering. Those members wishing to gain a national profile could easily employ a dramatic filibuster in order to get screen time and fundraising dollars. A return to the talking filibuster might make things more physically difficult for the minority, but it would still be an effective tool to grind the Senate to a halt, while also putting those 2024 presidential hopefuls in the limelight. 

I believe the 55 vote compromise to be a hedge against the abolition of the filibuster, and an institutional change dramatic enough to restore the upper chamber’s functionality. Save the Senate from its chronic deadlock, allow the minority to have its say: change the filibuster to 55 votes.