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Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) speaks to reporters following the Senate Republican Policy Luncheon on Capitol Hill on January 4, 2022 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

The US Senate Is the Bipartisan Graveyard of Democracy

What some dare call the "world's greatest deliberative body" is really the "world's most pompously unproductive legislative chamber."

Ralph Nader

Since January 2021, the U.S. House of Representatives has passed 412 bills and sent them to the Senate. Unfortunately, the Senate hasn't acted. "What?" you say, "don't the Democrats control both chambers of Congress?" Sure, by the barest of margins. Handcuffed by the filibuster, a Senate rule (not a federal law) requires 60 votes to pass legislation in what senators of yore called the "world's greatest deliberative body."

A couple of televised ferocious public contests on the Senate floor will make the solons consider other arrangements to unclog the world's most pompously unproductive legislative chamber.

"Nonsense," says veteran Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.). The Democrats can hold public hearings, report bills to the Senate floor, and then make the Republicans filibuster. Let the GOP sweat a days-long filibuster of a bill establishing a $15 minimum wage. Imagine the national TV coverage with Democrats rebutting the cruel or lying orations by megamillionaire Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and his minions.

As has been the practice for years, the Republican minority members in the Senate merely sent the majority leader an email threatening a filibuster ("extended debate" is the euphuism) and the majority leader placed the bills from the House in limbo.

"Make the GOP filibuster" is a rising private cry of Democrats in the House led by Larson. Let the GOP show its cruel fangs, its opposition to the long-overdue necessities for workers, the elderly, consumers, the environment, and equal rights for women. Many House bills passed "bipartisanly," meaning they had more than nominal numbers of Republican votes.

The filibuster can be turned into a boomerang against the Republicans. It could become a form of public education to strip the GOP of its sugar-coated propaganda and make Republican senators explain why they are against fair play, justice and the righting of past wrongs, which are harming all the people, not just Democratic voters.

Fierce debates draw large audiences in politics. Pretty soon, the GOP will realize that their filibustering is hurting them in the polls and diminishing their all-important vacation time from congressional work that will break the coerced unanimity and let some Republicans dissent from the party line.

Remember the Senate has plenty of time for filibustering. Like the House, it works a three-day week, plus many weeks called "recesses," including a recess for the entire month of August. If the Republicans were forced to filibuster to stay lucrative with their corporate paymasters, they would also make Democratic senators work full time and maybe some evenings.

Larson recalls that the most extensive past use of real filibustering was by Southern segregationist senators bent on blocking civil rights legislation. Now, the filibuster threat blocks all kinds of legislation on behalf of all the people at one time or another.

Filibuster excuses are even used in the House by right-wing Blue Dog Democrats whose small number hold the balance of power there. Using the excuse that a bill couldn't get through a Senate talkfest, conservative House Democrats, in essence, veto bills with large popular support, such as Medicare for All. You got your free Covid-19 vaccines by showing your ID at a drug store. This is an example of the benefits of a single-payer system, which gives you free choice of doctors or hospitals.

The popular overdue bill (Social Security 2100) is updating social security, which hasn't seen an increase in benefits for over 50 years! Larson calls his bill one that "preserves the #1 anti-poverty program for seniors and children." Retirement, disability, and survivor benefits are vital for many people. Mr. Larson wants to fully pay for these overdue increases by "making millionaires and billionaires pay their fair share" of taxes from their long-time, ridiculously low real payments.

Fed up with Senate obstructionism, a group of House lawmakers, I am told, are finally going public, challenging the Senate leadership to rise to the occasion and consider legislation demanded by the American people. A top priority for Mr. Larson and his fellow Democrats is strengthening voting rights to bolster the fort of democracy from increasing Trumpian assaults.

Going public joins the issue in explicit ways that will attract mass media and citizen attention. To make Republican senators put their mouths where their corporatist ideology is will require the Democrats, under leader Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), to have a sense of public urgency for fair legislation that overrides the stale pretexts for the bipartisan procedural, stagnant status quo. These pretexts have too long gone unrevealed and unexamined.

Take note: filibustering with all hands present on Capitol Hill disrupts convenient schedules and scheduled conveniences. A couple of televised ferocious public contests on the Senate floor will make the solons consider other arrangements to unclog the world's most pompously unproductive legislative chamber.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
Ralph Nader

Ralph Nader

Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate and the author of "The Seventeen Solutions: Bold Ideas for Our American Future" (2012). His new book is, "Wrecking America: How Trump’s Lies and Lawbreaking Betray All(2020, co-authored with Mark Green).

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