Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

"The good news is the filibuster is a Senate rule," explains Reich. "It's not in the Constitution. It's not even in a law. Like any other Senate rule it can be changed by a simple majority of senators." (Image: Inequality Media)

"The good news is the filibuster is a Senate rule," explains Reich. "It's not in the Constitution. It's not even in a law. Like any other Senate rule it can be changed by a simple majority of senators." (Image: Inequality Media)

Senate Democrats Can and Must Abolish the Filibuster. Now.

As long as the filibuster is intact, Senate Republicans could keep the Senate in gridlock, and then run in the 2022 midterms on Democrats’ failure to get anything done.

Robert Reich

 by RobertReich.org

Mitch McConnell may no longer be Senate Majority Leader, but Republicans can still block legislation supported by the vast majority. That’s because of a Senate rule called the filibuster. If we have any hope of safeguarding our democracy and ushering in transformative change, Democrats must wield their power to get rid of the filibuster—and fast.

The filibuster is a Senate rule requiring a 60-vote supermajority to pass legislation. Which means a minority of senators can often block legislation that the vast majority of Americans want and need. 

It’s not in the Constitution. In fact, it’s arguably unconstitutional. Alexander Hamilton regarded a supermajority rule as “a poison” that would lead to “contemptible compromises of the public good.” 

Even without the filibuster, Senate Republicans already have outsized influence. The 50 of them represent 41 and a half million fewer Americans than the 50 Senate Democrats. Wyoming, with 579,000 people gets two senators. California, with 40 million also gets two senators. 

Meanwhile, Republican-controlled states are gearing up to pass even more restrictive voting laws along with additional partisan gerrymandering that could enable Republicans in Washington to maintain power for the next decade. 

The best way to prevent this is with national election standards through the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act – but these important bills are stymied as long as the filibuster remains in place.

The filibuster is rooted in racism. In the late 19th century, Southern senators crafted the “talking filibuster”—in which a member could delay the passage of a bill with a long-winded speech—in order to protect the pro-slavery Senate minority. 

The current version of the filibuster, requiring 60 votes to end debate, was popularized in the Jim Crow era by Southern senators seeking to prevent passage of civil rights legislation. From the end of Reconstruction to 1964, the filibuster was used only to kill civil rights bills.

Senators can now use a process called “reconciliation” to pass legislation on budgetary matters, requiring a bare majority of 51 votes. But the filibuster can still stop bills on voting rights, the climate crisis, campaign finance reform, and other crucial legislation Americans need—and on which Joe Biden has based much of his presidency.

Getting rid of the filibuster is also good politics. As long as the filibuster is intact, Senate Republicans could keep the Senate in gridlock, and then run in the 2022 midterms on Democrats’ failure to get anything done. 

The good news is the filibuster is a Senate rule. As I said, it’s not in the Constitution. It’s not even in a law. Like any other Senate rule it can be changed by a simple majority of senators. 

With Vice President Kamala Harris now serving as the tie-breaking vote, Senate Democrats can and must abolish the filibuster. 

There are a few conservative Senate Democrats who don’t like the idea, but Joe Biden and Chuck Schumer can get them to fall in line. That’s what leadership is all about. They must end the filibuster and get America moving. Now.


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.
Robert Reich

Robert Reich

Robert Reich, is the Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley, and a senior fellow at the Blum Center for Developing Economies. He served as secretary of labor in the Clinton administration, for which Time magazine named him one of the 10 most effective cabinet secretaries of the twentieth century. His book include:  "Aftershock" (2011), "The Work of Nations" (1992), "Beyond Outrage" (2012) and, "Saving Capitalism" (2016). He is also a founding editor of The American Prospect magazine, former chairman of Common Cause, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and co-creator of the award-winning documentary, "Inequality For All." Reich's newest book is "The Common Good" (2019). He's co-creator of the Netflix original documentary "Saving Capitalism," which is streaming now.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

Family of Officer Who Died After Jan. 6 Won't Shake Hands With McConnell, McCarthy

"No one should shake hands with insurrectionist sympathizers," said Voto Latino.

Jessica Corbett ·


Sanders Says He Has Enough Support to Pass Yemen War Powers Resolution

"By removing the possibility of more U.S. support for Riyadh and its partners to renew airstrikes in Yemen, Congress can play a constructive role to keep the pressure on the Saudis to negotiate an extension of the truce," said two advocates for the resolution.

Julia Conley ·


On Election Day, Warnock Supporters Urge Georgians 'Don't Walk, Run to the Polls!'

"The stakes could not be higher," said Planned Parenthood Action Fund president Alexis McGill Johnson, who campaigned for the Democratic senator. "Freedom is on the ballot."

Jessica Corbett ·


Biden Administration Takes 'Urgent and Necessary' Step to Protect 100,000+ Haitians From Deportation

"This decision will save lives and is the type of compassionate response this moment demands," said Rep. Ayanna Pressley, who led a call from Democrats in Congress to allow Haitians living in the United States to remain during the country's "unprecedented crisis."

Brett Wilkins ·


Revealing New Evidence in Abu Akleh's Killing, Al Jazeera Sues Israeli Forces at ICC

The news network said the journalist's killing was part of a "wider attack on Al Jazeera, and journalists in Palestine."

Julia Conley ·

Common Dreams Logo