Mizuno: Bypassing the filibuster with budget reconciliation is a mistake

Dane Mizuno, Staff Columnist

Last month, budget reconciliation was used to push forward the $1.9 trillion stimulus in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, Democrats are again attempting to use budget reconciliation as a way to push forth President Biden’s agenda, bypassing the filibuster and working in favor of the slim majority that Democrats have over Republicans. This utterly ignores any say that the GOP has regarding Biden’s agenda and is without a doubt not a judicious move by Senate Democrats.

Simply put, bypassing the opposition party is just an easy way out, and frankly, in a country divided by political polarization—where in many cases it is taboo to even talk about politics at the dinner table—this process only seeks to further divide the United State and increase political strife between two parties already at each other’s throats. Especially during dire times brought on by this pandemic, this would be a backward step for the politics of this country. 

Furthermore, it is important to note who Democrats are up against. They are up against Sen. Mitch McConnell, and he has proven to be a very shrewd adversary. He will no doubt find a way to delay and obstruct legislation with the myriad of loopholes baked into the Senate’s procedures. If Senate Democrats make a habit of finding ways to bypass the filibuster like this, McConnell is likely to exercise his ability to object to unanimous consent requests. Any elimination of the filibuster will surely give rise to a retaliatory reaction by McConnell and the GOP. 

Sure, at times, McConnell acts in a way that causes acrimony to even the most moderate of Democrats. Nothing is more evident than the blatant hypocrisy he carried out by blocking current Attorney General Merrick Garland’s hearing to be appointed as the successor to former Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia in an election year, only to then go on to confirm Amy Coney Barrett five years later in a similar circumstance. But the answer to bad behavior is not more bad behavior. The answer to vice is virtue. Compromise and bipartisanship is what this country needs—not marginalizing the minority GOP. 

However, Democrats’ comments on the filibuster highlight a legitimate issue. After all, there has been an exponential increase in the number of times the filibuster has been used in recent years. The minority party, in particular the GOP, uses it every time to block any majority party bill. 

The system is not broken, but the people who take advantage of it are. The filibuster has a noble intention, this Robin Hood idea of protecting the minority so that the majority doesn’t take advantage of them using any sort of overly Kaldor-Hicks-type efficient legislation. Maximizing societal welfare with a utilitarian model does not justify trampling over the well-being of the minority. Ultimately, it has strayed far from its original intention. It is an understatement to say that the filibuster is being abused.

Therefore, in order to continue protecting the rights of minorities through promoting discourse, the filibuster should not be abolished, but rather reforms need to be implemented so that the filibuster stops getting continuously abused. We have to work with the status quo and implement small changes instead of radical ones that would work to pit moderates against the majority and truly produce endless gridlock—which was what the founders truly feared, as seen when Alexander Hamilton states his fears of a pertinacious minority controlling the majority in Federalist Papers No. 22.

While there are several reforms that could be implemented, one small reform could be to incrementally lower the supermajority threshold needed to invoke cloture. In order to do that— similar to how President Biden has created a Supreme Court Commission to find if any improvements can be made to the Supreme Court—a joint committee, equally consisting of both Democrats and Republicans, should be created to find ways to improve debate on the Senate floor. Having the two parties collaborate and compromise on a goal to find a supermajority threshold that works for both parties is the first step to working together again. This is certainly a much more tedious process than using the short-term fix of budget reconciliation, but in the long run, all of us Americans will reap enormous dividends when our government starts working together rather than each party trying to pull the other party down.