Opinion | Abolish the filibuster

Democrats should abolish the filibuster to make the Senate more efficient.


Ryan Adams

Members of the Iowa house prepare for the opening of the 2021 legislative session on Monday, Jan. 11, 2021 at the Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines. Legislative goals for the session include further tax cuts, expanding in-person learning, and moving towards economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sophie Stover, Opinions Columnist

I wasn’t alive when former Sen. Alfonse D’Amato from New York  read from a phone book while filibustering the Senate in 1986, but I am old enough to remember when Sen. Marco Rubio quoted rappers and Sen. Rand Paul ate a candy bar on the Senate floor. If these instances make it seem like I think the filibuster seems like a waste of time, that’s because it is.

In simple terms, while debating legislation in the U.S. Senate, the introduction of a filibuster means that a period of debate will continue unless 60 of the 100 senators approve a motion to move to a final vote.  The filibuster rule can and should be abolished because it will bring an end to a rule used to facilitate partisan infighting and unproductivity.

In practice, this procedure is utilized by the minority party to block legislation of the majority party’s interest. The filibuster rule — not required by the constitution — has turned into a hyper partisan tool used to create gridlock in the Senate.

Over seven years ago, former Iowa Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin was a leading advocate for filibuster reform.

Harkin pointed out in a 2013 interview that the rule had been used more recently by Republicans, but nevertheless mobilized by both parties to block legislation and create inefficiency in the Senate.

The Senate has become increasingly unproductive in the last 15 years, and most members are concerned about blocking legislation rather than passing any. From 1947 to 2006, there were as many motions to move from the filibuster to a final vote as there were from 2006 to 2021. Back in 1947, the Senate passed more than 52 percent of bills introduced while the previous Senate as of Oct. 30 had passed just 4 percent of bills.

These statistics show how the filibuster has been increasingly used in the 21st century and has made the Senate more ineffective than ever. In 2013, an amendment sponsored by Sen. Joe Manchin and Sen. Pat Toomey proposed requiring better background checks. The bipartisan amendment fell six votes short of passing a GOP-led filibuster. Both Rubio and Paul were a part of the vote to not move the amendment to a final vote.

It’s very doable for Democrats to do away with the filibuster by using the nuclear option to change the rules of the Senate, with Vice President Kamala Harris presiding over the Senate with the deciding vote. The filibuster is not laid out in the constitution, and it has been reformed many times in the past.

Currently, it is left open to Democrats to abolish it completely before the 2022 midterms. The Senate should invoke the “nuclear option,” to change its rules, as the legislative body has done thrice with the filibuster since 2013.

Abolishing such an old rule of the Senate seems daunting, but the filibuster has gotten out of hand and has resulted in an ineffective Senate. As Harkin so eloquently stated in reference to the filibuster, “a senator has his or her power not because of what we can do but because of what we can stop.” Even as a Senator at the time, Harkin acknowledged the backwards functioning the filibuster allows.

Regardless of party affiliation, the electorate would like to see the Senate function more efficiently as senators’ powers of obstruction are put in check. Democrats need to abolish the filibuster for a more effective Senate and the good of the country.

Columns reflect the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Editorial Board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations in which the author may be involved.