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'Something needs to change': Conventional wisdom on filibusters shifts

Up until recently, the mainstream conventional wisdom leaned against reforming the way the Senate functions. Those assumptions are clearly changing.


The first bill in this Congress to be derailed by a Republican filibuster was about a month ago, when GOP senators rejected a bipartisan proposal to create an independent commission to investigate the Jan. 6 attack. Democrats agreed to Republican demands in the proposal, but the GOP killed it anyway.

The second measure to meet the same fate came two weeks ago, when the Republican Senate minority derailed the Paycheck Fairness Act, designed to address the ongoing gender pay gap. Democrats needed 10 GOP senators to advance the bill, but they ended up with zero.

The third successful Republican filibuster was, of course, yesterday, when every GOP senator blocked a debate on the For the People Act. The outcome reminded me of an editorial that the Washington Post published a day earlier.

It should not be a partisan issue to say that voting should be encouraged and that Congress should object when states make it more difficult to vote. Republican officials across the nation are cracking down on voting based on the lie that elections in the United States are rife with fraud. They are also gearing up to gerrymander congressional districts with heretofore unseen technical precision. The legitimate functioning of the nation's democratic system is at stake.... If Republicans will not permit a vote on even the most obvious of pro-voting reforms, something needs to change. Senators should be cautious in reshaping the chamber's rules — but not to a fault.

For those unfamiliar with the editorial board of the Washington Post, it is not a reflexively progressive voice. For years, the board has generally helped reflect -- and perhaps even help shape -- a relatively centrist D.C. mainstream.

To understand the political conventional wisdom in the nation's capital, one could do worse than turning to the Post's editorial board.

And that's precisely why I was interested to see the newspaper agree that when it comes to the Senate's filibuster rules, "something needs to change."

In recent years, a variety of progressive voices (including, full disclosure, mine) have argued vociferously that the Senate is, for all intents and purposes, largely broken. To make the legislative branch functional again, restoring the Senate to its majority-rule traditions is entirely necessary.

Such talk tended to be dismissed as extreme and excessive. "Serious" political observers appreciated the Senate's unique approach to legislating. "Mainstream" spectators had no use for radical suggestions of reform.

But the more the institution's dysfunction becomes painfully unavoidable, the more the conventional wisdom evolves.

In this instance, it seems obvious that the Post's editorial board isn't necessarily prepared to champion a dramatic overhaul of the chamber's rules -- it explicitly recommends that senators remain "cautious" -- but the editorial nevertheless comes down on the side of reform.

The editors appear to have come to the same conclusion as many Democratic senators who, four years ago, were adamant about leaving legislative filibusters intact, but who've since concluded that the status quo is untenable.

Sometimes, the winds shift slowly, but with them come change.