Columns Intersectional Equity

Week 28: The Filibuster

In the wake of the election, there has been intense debate around whether or not to do away with the filibuster in the Senate. The filibuster is when a minority (41%) of senators block the vote on legislation. In order for a bill to get passed, it needs to have a simple majority’s support (51% of Senate). However, this approval happens only if a bill gets a vote, which requires a supermajority (60% of senate) to happen. Essentially, a bill can have enough support to get passed, but not enough support for voting to happen in the first place. Many people argue that this is the reason for the Senate’s gridlock and inaction on so much legislation. Here is a brief video that explains how the filibuster works. 

The filibuster is a major obstacle to achieving Biden’s agenda, as the Democratically controlled senate has a majority only with the tie-breaking vote of Vice President Harris. The level of partisanship in the Senate means that it is unlikely that significant legislation will receive the 60% support needed to get a vote, therefore blocking progress. The simplest way to get rid of the filibuster would be to directly amend the text of Senate Rule 22, which requires 60 votes to end debate. The problem with this solution is that a supermajority would have to agree to hold a vote on changing Rule 22, which, with our current Senate configuration, is extremely unlikely. 

There is a more complicated but likely scenario for eliminating the filibuster which has colloquially become known as the “nuclear option.” It would allow the senate to override Rule 22 by changing the way it is interpreted rather than the law itself. This change would only require a simple majority’s support and is therefore within the capabilities of the Senate. 

It was first used in 2013 by Democrats to dictate that only a simple majority was needed to confirm Obama’s judge nominees for the D.C. circuit court (watch Harry Reid call for the nuclear option). In 2014, Democrats were able to confirm 89 nominees (twice the annual average). However, in 2017, GOP Senators used the precedent set by Democrats to help get Trump’s supreme court nominees, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh (and later, Amy Coney Barrett), confirmed.

Getting rid of the filibuster would render the minority party practically powerless, discouraging bipartisan cooperation but also allowing more progress to be made. For these reasons, it is extremely controversial, with politicians radically switching their views with each power shift within the Senate. When Democrats were the minority, they nearly unanimously fought for the retention of the filibuster. Today, with the Democrats in slim control, the roles are reversed with conservatives fighting for the status quo. Implementing the nuclear option may be necessary right now if this administration wants to accomplish its goals, but at what cost for the future? 

Therefore, we must analyze whether we truly support getting rid of the filibuster because we believe the current ability of a minority to block progress is undemocratic, or if we only support the removal of the filibuster because it gives a certain party more power. If it is the latter, we must ask ourselves whether it is worth the future consequences should the Senate swing into another party’s control. While the filibuster has created a slow system in which progress is difficult, it also promotes a certain level of bipartisanship and cooperation that may be lost with its removal. 

There are positive and negative aspects to getting rid of the filibuster, and both action and inaction will have significant repercussions. However, with extreme partisanship polarizing our country, perhaps removing the filibuster is the only way to move forward in the short term, and we will, as a nation, need to address the larger ideological divide for a more productive and democratic future. 


Can’t Vote? Phone Bank!

Photo Credit: Shawn Harquail

Theoretically, phone banking seems simple and straightforward: you call up prospective voters, tell them how important it is to vote, and convince them that they should cast their ballot for a particular candidate. How hard could it be? 

I had this exact thought process when my parents suggested I help out at a phone bank. Little did I know, there’s so much more to it.

There is a sense of satisfaction in knowing that you helped at least a few people come out to vote. In a world where we as teenagers often feel helpless, particularly in politics, phone banking is an amazing way to make a difference. 

At times, I have found phone banking to be pretty ego damaging. Many people simply do not want to talk to you and hang up on you quickly, some do not agree with you, and a couple are openly rude, but the few that respond well make it worthwhile. 

The position of teenagers in politics is unique; we are old enough to have developed opinions of our own, yet people rarely listen to us. Phone banking may not be the most radical or exciting way to make your voice heard, but it does create an impact. 

My dad took me phone banking for the first time before the presidential election in 2016. I distinctly remember dialing number after number and talking to these strangers, trying to make sure each of them was registered to vote. I quickly became discouraged and tired of being hung up on, but then I talked to one woman who didn’t know where her polling place was, and I was able to provide her with a website. This may seem like a small victory, but the feeling of accomplishment after I had helped this one person vote was incredible. 

I think that our generation is going to (and already is) making huge changes in this world, and this is just another way we can all contribute in a small way to better help our city, our country, and our world. 

So if you are a teenager who can’t vote yet, but is interested in politics and wants to make a difference in the crazy world we live in, volunteer at a phone bank! 

Right now, the phone banks are all virtual and they happen very frequently. It is very easy to participate — you can sign up through the PA Democratic Party or Back to Blue

I couldn’t find any Republican phone banks, but here’s a link to volunteer for the Philadelphia Republican party.