Skip to main content

Why are the billionaires always laughing?

Because they know the corporate media will never call bullshit on their bullshit.

Why are the billionaires laughing?

It’s easy to laugh when the corporate press treats you as a glorious success instead of the epitome of a broken social order. Billionaires laugh because they know the corporate media prefers to fawn over them rather than hold them to account.

Today, we ask you to support our nonprofit, independent journalism because we are not impressed by billionaires flying into space, their corporations despoiling our health and planet, or their vast fortunes safely concealed in tax havens across the globe. We are not laughing.

We are hard at work producing journalism for the common good. With our Fall Campaign underway, please support this mission today. We cannot do it without you.

Support Our Work -- Join the small group of generous readers who donate, keeping Common Dreams free for millions of people each year. Every donation—large or small—helps us bring you the news that matters.

cori_bush_filibuster

Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) advocates for ending the Senate filibuster during a news conference outside the U.S. Capitol on April 22, 2021 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Drew Angerer via Getty Images)

This Anti-Democratic, Unconstitutional Filibuster Must Be Destroyed

Every time Republicans use or defend the filibuster they're directly violating the Constitution—the document they claim to be dedicated to.

Robert Reich

 by RobertReich.org

You’ve probably been hearing a lot about the filibuster these days. But here’s one thing about this old Senate rule you might not know: the filibuster actually violates the Constitution.

We have a total mockery of majority rule.

Forty-one Senate Republicans, who represent only 21% of the American population, are blocking the “For the People Act,” which is supported by 67% of Americans. They’re also blocking an increase in the minimum wage to $15 an hour, supported by 62% of Americans. And so much else.  

Even some so-called moderate Democrats, like Joe Manchin and Krysten Sinema, have outsized power to block crucial legislation thanks to the filibuster.

Many of those who defend the filibuster consider themselves “originalists,” who claim to be following the Constitution as the Framers intended. 

But the filibuster is not in the Constitution. In fact, the Framers of the Constitution went to great lengths to ensure that a minority of senators could not thwart the wishes of the majority. 

After all, a major reason they called the Constitutional Convention was that the Articles of Confederation (the precursor to the Constitution) required a super-majority vote of nine of the thirteen states, making the government weak and ineffective.

James Madison argued against any super-majority requirement, writing that “the fundamental principle of free government would be reversed,“ and “It would be no longer the majority that would rule: the power would be transferred to the minority.”

Alexander Hamilton, meanwhile, warned about “how much good may be prevented, and how much ill may be produced” if a minority in either house of Congress had “the power of hindering the doing what may be necessary.”

Hence, the Framers required no more than a simple majority vote in both houses of Congress to pass legislation. They carved out specific exceptions, requiring a super-majority vote only for rare, high-stakes decisions: 

  • Impeachments.
  • Expulsion of members.
  • Overriding a presidential veto.
  • Ratification of treaties.
  • Constitutional amendments.

By being explicit about these exceptions where a super-majority is necessary, the Framers underscored their commitment to majority rule for the normal business of the nation.

They would have balked at the notion of a minority of senators continually obstructing the majority, which is now the case with the filibuster. 

So where did the filibuster come from? 

The Senate needed a mechanism to end debate on proposed laws, and move laws to a vote—a problem the Framers didn’t anticipate. In 1841, a small group of senators took full advantage of this oversight to stage the first filibuster. They hoped to hamstring the Senate and force their opponents to give in by prolonging debate and delaying a vote. 

Just 41 Senate Republicans, representing only 21% of the country, are blocking critical laws supported by the vast majority of Americans.

This was what became known as the “talking filibuster” as popularized in the film Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. But the results were hardly admirable.

After the Civil War, the filibuster was used by Southern politicians to defeat Reconstruction legislation, including bills to protect the voting rights of Black Americans.

In 1917, as a result of pressure from President Woodrow Wilson and the public, the Senate finally adopted a procedure for limiting debate and ending filibusters with a two-thirds vote (67 votes). In the 1970s, the Senate reduced the number of votes required to end debate down to 60, and no longer required constant talking to delay a vote. 41 votes would do it.

Throughout much of the 20th century, despite all the rule changes, filibusters remained rare. Southern senators mainly used them to block anti-lynching, fair employment, voting rights, and other critical civil rights bills.

That all changed in 2006, after Democrats won a majority of Senate seats. Senate Republicans, now in the minority, used the 60-vote requirement with unprecedented frequency. After Barack Obama became president in 2008, the Republican minority blocked virtually every significant piece of legislation. Nothing could move without 60 votes.

In 2009, a record 67 filibusters occurred during the first half of the 111th Congress—double the entire 20-year period between 1950 and 1969. By the time the 111th Congress adjourned in December 2010, the filibuster count had ballooned to 137.

Now we have a total mockery of majority rule. And it bears repeating that just 41 Senate Republicans, representing only 21% of the country, are blocking critical laws supported by the vast majority of Americans. 

This is exactly the opposite of what the framers of the Constitution intended. They unequivocally rejected the notion that a minority of Senators could obstruct the majority. 

Every time Republicans use or defend the filibuster they’re directly violating the Constitution—the document they claim to be dedicated to. How can someone profess to be an “originalist” and defend the Constitution while repeatedly violating it?

Senators whose votes have been blocked by a minority should have standing to take this issue to the Supreme Court. And the Court should abolish the filibuster as violating the U.S. Constitution.


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.

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Simply Don't Exist.

New Whistleblower Sparks Calls to 'Crack Down on Facebook and All Big Tech Companies'

Hours after another ex-employee filed a formal complaint, reporting broke on internal documents that show the tech giant's failure to address concerns about content related to the 2020 U.S. election.

Jessica Corbett ·


'Catastrophic and Irreparable Harm' to Wolves Averted as Wisconsin Judge Cancels Hunt

"We are heartened by this rare instance of reason and democracy prevailing in state wolf policy," said one conservation expert.

Brett Wilkins ·


'Texans Deserved Better Than This': Supreme Court Leaves Abortion Ban in Place

The nation's high court set a date to hear a pair of legal challenges to the "horrific" restrictions.

Jessica Corbett ·


'Like It Never Happened': Federal Judge Tosses Trump Attack on Clean Water Rule

Denying a Biden administration request to temporarily retain the rule, the judge reestablished "the careful balance of state and federal power to protect clean water that Congress intended when it wrote the Clean Water Act."

Brett Wilkins ·


Self-Proclaimed Pro-Climate Corporations Have Been Giving Thousands to Manchin and Sinema

"As if it wasn't enough that wealthy polluters have bankrolled Sen. Manchin during his fight against common-sense climate solutions—now companies that claim to value protecting the environment have opened their pocketbooks as well."

Kenny Stancil ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.


Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo