Senators should have to speak on Senate floor to use the filibuster

U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia, has it right: The filibuster should not be eliminated. The Senate needs the filibuster as a tool to drive the two parties toward compromise on important issues as well as to give voice to the minority party.

Democrats hold the slimmest margin of control in the Senate at the moment, and the filibuster option by Republicans threatens to derail some of President Joe Biden’s agenda. But Democrats who are clamoring for an end to the filibuster need to look to the future when their party could once again be on the short side of Senate control.

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The current 50-50 split leans toward the Democrats because Vice President Kamala Harris gets a tie-breaking vote. Whether Democrats can retain that hold after next year’s midterm elections is far from certain. Eliminating the filibuster now may be a short-term gain for Democrats but a long-term loss.

Manchin continues to flex his newfound political muscle in the Senate as a conservative Democrat whose vote is needed to push a Biden agenda forward. He should use his capital to push the filibuster to its roots.

Today, the filibuster is not about taking to the floor of the Senate to oppose a bill. It has become a blocking threat. If party leaders can find 41 votes opposed to cloture (the process of ending debate and moving to a vote), the bill never makes it to the floor.

The Senate should use the filibuster as intended. Think Jimmy Stewart in the movie “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” He takes the Senate floor to oppose a bill, talking until he collapses from exhaustion. It may be a Hollywood image but it is a scene that captures the essence of the filibuster.

Forcing senators to exercise the filibuster with effort could spark discussion and compromise. Or not. A memorable filibuster “moment” occurred in 1957 when Sen. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina began a filibuster against the Civil Rights Act. He talked for 24 hours and 18 minutes. The bill passed two hours after the filibuster ended.

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Whether the filibuster achieves a senator’s goal in any particular instance is irrelevant. In its historical form, it is legitimate. It should remain a tool in the American political arsenal, a tool that should be wielded as it was meant to be: with verbosity and the stamina for standing.

— Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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