Nowhere near the beginning, the filibuster was created. This has made a lot of people very angry, and has been widely regarded as a bad move. Pardon my theft, Mr. Douglas Adams (not either president Adams). You see, despite Manchin’s ridiculous editorial issued Sunday, neither John Adams nor his son were ever around to see an actual filibuster. Due to a rules change originally suggested by Aaron Burr, you know, the vice president who murdered Alexander Hamilton in a duel, the first time the filibuster ever came up was in 1837. The rules were revised several times, with Mitch McConnell also revising them several times.
Senator Manchin’s editorial is full of hand-wringing and false equivalencies. There is one truth that is universal, understood in every single language and does not change: numbers. When the constitution was first ratified, the founders did not write a perfect document—and they knew it and opened it up for amendments, of which there have been 27 ratified. What didn’t happen from the beginning was the ability of the founders to see how a filibuster would be used to derail governing. What they might have envisioned, however, came out of the three-fifths compromise, a mathematical agreement meant to give white southern states that held slaves a seat at the table while ignoring the problem of slavery.
The Senate, today, has become an undemocratic dividing line where senators representing lower population states are dismantling democracy in favor of representing only the few. Welcome to the four house district club, Senator Manchin’s West Virginia. Sending my regards from Kansas. And while your electoral vote count may go down thanks to that loss of a House seat, you still have exactly the same power you have always had in the Senate—that is, West Virginia is the equal to New York, California, Michigan, and Texas.
Because of this breakdown, a huge population of the United States is held hostage to the wills of those in states unreflective of the nation as a whole.
But what about Manchin’s claims about the founder’s belief? Apparently, he doesn’t well understand what the founders themselves meant when they worded the document. From Princeton Legal Journal:
When considering the filibuster as a supermajority requirement for regular legislation, it is clearly unconstitutional.2 As a textual matter, the Constitution appoints the Vice President as the tie-breaking vote in the Senate, providing that they “shall have no Vote unless [the Senators] be equally divided.” This provision implies that the Senate must pass regular legislation by a majority vote. The Framers of the Constitution, while concerned with tyranny of the majority, generally favored majority rule except for certain cases. In fact, the specification of supermajority requirements in the Senate elsewhere in the Constitution, like for the ratification of treaties, indicates that the Framers never envisioned a supermajority rule for regular legislation.1
The Framers, famously wary of tyranny of the majority, devised a system of governance to protect minority rights and promote deliberation without a filibuster. The Federalist Papers outline how checks and balances, federalism, and other structural mechanisms prevent abuses of power, suppression of minority interests, and rash government action. The Framers clearly feared tyrannical majorities and an overly powerful legislature. However, even they deemed a supermajority cloture requirement unnecessary, undermining the argument that the filibuster enhances the Senate’s intended function.
Senator Manchin points out his “both sides” argument, but fails, frankly, to ever really offer any details. From his editorial:
It has been said by much wiser people than me that absolute power corrupts absolutely. Well, what I’ve seen during my time in Washington is that every party in power will always want to exercise absolute power, absolutely. Our founders were wise to see the temptation of absolute power and built in specific checks and balances to force compromise that serves to preserve our fragile democracy
I can think of several moments Republicans have tried—and succeeded—to move with absolute power (see the U.S. Supreme Court justice nomination process and three seats). Republicans have used similar measures to change the rules when needed.
Democratic elected? Not so much. In 2009, the Democratic elected struggled around the Affordable Care Act, trying repeatedly to negotiate with Republicans. Again, with the current infrastructure bill, we keep going back to the table to negotiate. Republicans, when they had power over all three bodies did no such fair bargaining. While Senator Manchin talks about bipartisanship, Republicans have acted for quite a while as if they have never heard of it—in 2017, the Trump tax plan was negotiated between … Republicans. Democratic feedback wasn’t welcome or even really considered.
There is a simple problem with the West Virginian’s solution of bipartisanship, and that is how you define it. I’ve spoken at a lot of meetings, and I always use this as an example. A husband and wife go to a marriage counselor. They are having a dispute. The husband has decided he wants to burn the house down. The wife is opposed, and says loudly: “How about we just burn down the garage?”
Either way, the house is destroyed.
Bipartisanship requires good faith results. You can’t really negotiate in a way where your home is destroyed at the end of the talks.
With Republicans putting a stranglehold on low population red states they have developed a hard wall that guarantees them a large number of senators before they start.
Sorry, Senator, you can save your excuses for something else. If you really wanted HR4 instead, you have just handed Republicans exactly the tool they needed until midterms by telling them they can count on your vote to stop absolutely everything and anything that President Biden proposes. Good for you, bad for America.
Why does the tyranny of the Senate continue? Because when given the opportunity to change it, the people who could help the situation sit on their hands and those who benefit from the tyranny work harder and harder to prevent others from voting to change the situation.