Kyrsten Sinema Loves Her Filibuster Better Than You
Senate Democrats are expected to put their signature election reform legislation, the "For the People Act," up for a vote Tuesday. It will fail because Republicans, who are currently in the minority, will mercilessly block the bill from even proceeding to debate, by using the filibuster, otherwise known as the Democrat Face Puncher 9000. Surprisingly, there aren't 10 Republicans (or even one, actually) willing to support a "Stop Republicans From Cheating" bill. No, wait, that's the exact opposite of “surprising." It's totally expected. Republicans even filibustered an investigation into a domestic terrorist attack on the Capitol because it would prove politically inconvenient.
The filibuster is not a noble tool, but a couple tools in the Democratic Party defend it more strongly than our constitutional right to vote. West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin and his fellow Candide, Kyrsten Sinema, are stalwart defenders of the filibuster, which they insist produces the best of all possible Senates. Sinema even wrote a love letter to the filibuster in Monday's Washington Post. It's a load of self-serving twaddle, so strap on your hip waders.
Sinema boasts that Arizonians sent her to the Senate to deliver lasting results, not "temporary victories, destined to be reversed." She's actually achieved neither, but temporary victories are often all we have. The Civil Rights Movement, the feminist movement, the LGBTQ movement, are ongoing battles. Our victories are only lasting if we remain vigilant. If we've learned anything over the past five years, it's that no amount of social progress is permanent. We have to fight on, no matter how tiring the struggle, but nothing is “destined to be reversed" unless we give up and let Republicans kick our asses and rewrite voting laws so Democrats never win another election.
The best way to achieve durable, lasting results? Bipartisan cooperation.
Sinema is arguably only a senator because her 2018 opponent, Martha McSally, voted to gut the Affordable Care Act, which didn't pass with "bipartisan cooperation." Republicans opposed it at every step for years. That didn't make Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi's crowning legislative achievement merely a “temporary victory." I dare Sinema to tell anyone still alive now because of the ACA that their health isn't a “lasting result" worth celebrating.
I understand bipartisanship seems outdated to many pundits. But the difficult work of collaboration is what we expect in Arizona. And I still believe it is the best way to identify realistic solutions — instead of escalating all-or-nothing political battles that result in no action, or in whipsawing federal policy reversals.
It's not pundits who consider bipartisanship “outdated." It's voters who want results. She needs to convince them, not borrow rightwing talking points about the punditry. She's the one out of step with average voters, who despite what she may have heard on "Meet The Press," do not actually care about Senate norms and traditions. They just want jobs or stimulus assistance during a pandemic. No one wants to return their $1,400 checks because the COVID-19 relief package didn't have bipartisan support.
Once in a majority, it is tempting to believe you will stay in the majority. But a Democratic Senate minority used the 60-vote threshold just last year to filibuster a police reform proposal and a covid-relief bill that many Democrats viewed as inadequate. Those filibusters were mounted not as attempts to block progress, but to force continued negotiations toward better solutions.
This is incredibly disingenuous or, as they say in the old neighborhood, a fucking lie. When Democrats blocked the GOP's cop-humping bill posing as police reform, it was so House Democrats could counter with their own proposal. The same is true of the second proposed COVID-19 relief (the first passed with full Democratic support). Sinema refuses to acknowledge that the GOP is blocking any movement on a January 6 investigation or voting rights legislation.
The filibuster is a weapon Democrats use judiciously, while Republicans flagrantly abuse it. Democrats have reached the point where the only option is remove the weapon entirely, even if it's not a total net positive for them. That's compromise! It's Sinema and Manchin who stubbornly refuse to yield an inch, despite mounting evidence and public appeals.
Sinema implies Democrats are too dumb to realize that they won't remain in the majority forever. However, it's dumb to govern as if you'll remain in the minority forever, especially when an anti-democratic majority will determine what meager powers you maintain. During the Trump administration, the GOP nuked the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees and limited debate on presidential nominations. It's naive to believe Republicans won't nuke the legislative filibuster if it ever suits their needs and they're in the majority. It doesn't matter what they say now. We've seen their shameless about face on Amy Coney Barrett's confirmation.
To those who want to eliminate the legislative filibuster to pass the For the People Act (voting-rights legislation I support and have co-sponsored), I would ask: Would it be good for our country if we did, only to see that legislation rescinded a few years from now and replaced by a nationwide voter-ID law or restrictions on voting by mail in federal elections, over the objections of the minority?
Senator, what the fuck are you talking about? Republicans are already passing restrictive voting laws at the state level on a party line basis. It's happening right now in Arizona! Try to get out the house once in a while.
To those who want to eliminate the legislative filibuster to expand health-care access or retirement benefits: Would it be good for our country if we did, only to later see that legislation replaced by legislation dividing Medicaid into block grants, slashing earned Social Security and Medicare benefits, or defunding women's reproductive health services?
OK, so even a freshman senator should understand that Republicans can already do a lot to weaken/defund/destroy Medicare, Medicaid and other spending programs through reconciliation, which requires a simple majority vote. They can also defund Planned Parenthood and set the Medicare age to 100. They can't kill Social Security through reconciliation, but even if they nuked the legislative filibuster, their obstacle would be finding 51 votes, not 60. That's why the GOP's so-called “skinny repeal" of the ACA failed. Voters like having expanded access to healthcare. They don't enjoy retiring at 120. Democratic policies are simply more popular.
Sinema seems to believe it's better to let Republicans destroy democracy now, because they might pass awful legislation later. This defeatist position should really turn out the vote for her when she's up for reelection.
If Democrats don't do whatever it takes to defend voting rights while they have the chance, the filibuster will become academic: Republicans might actually have their 60-vote supermajority.
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes reviews for the A.V. Club and make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."