Filibuster Reform FAQs

Will eliminating the filibuster really save democracy? 

Yes! As the Senate’s rules exist today, even in the best-case scenario where Democrats have unified control of our government, Republicans in the Senate will still have the power to block every single progressive priority. That includes not just democracy reforms, but universal health care, climate change legislation, gun violence legislation, and progressive immigration reforms.  

It’s simple: none of the progressive issues that Democratic candidates and congressional leaders are discussing today will become law unless we do something about the filibuster. If Mitch McConnell expects to be the Grim Reaper of progressive policies, the scythe he’ll use is the Senate filibuster. Unless we change the rules.

 

But doesn’t the filibuster help Democrats when a Republican is in the White House? 

It is true that Democrats have used the filibuster to block bad legislation from Republican presidents in the past. But it’s been more frequently used by conservatives to impede progress on civil rights, gun safety, and immigration legislation.

The filibuster is inherently undemocratic: it empowers the minority to block the will of voters and of the American public. In fact, for most of the Senate’s 230-year history, legislation was passed with simple majorities.  

Under the next Democratic president, it will be used by Republicans to block every single progressive priority. 

 

Why get rid of it in 2021?  

If progressives win back the Senate in 2020 or 2022, that is our last best chance to enact major structural democracy reforms to ensure the government works for ALL the people. 

One big reason for that is big shifts in where the majority of Americans live -- right now, the majority of us live in just 9 states. By 2040, the majority of Americans will live in just 8 states. The filibuster allows a shrinking minority -- less than one-fifth of the population -- to have veto power over broadly popular progressive ideas. Unless and until we welcome more states into the union (like D.C.!), after 2020, there probably won’t be a path to 60 votes in the Senate for our agenda for a long, long time to come.

 

Won’t Mitch McConnell and the Republicans just undo all of our progress when they regain power in the future?  

Hey, we get it. Mitch McConnell has already done a ton of scary stuff. But here’s the great thing about overturning the filibuster: once we get rid of it, we can pass legislation like the For the People Act (also known as H.R. 1), which expands voting rights and reduces the influence of dark money in our elections among a lot of other really great things. That means more people participating in our democracy, which means there are fewer opportunities for Republicans to win back a majority in the future. 

We can also finally pass a D.C. statehood bill, which would enfranchise 700,000 residents in the District of Columbia and give them two Senators. We can reform the courts to ensure we’re confirming judges who will uphold our legislative agenda. In short, getting rid of the filibuster is the best way to permanently shake up the power structures that the Republicans have intentionally twisted over decades to entrench their power.

 

OK, I’m ready to get rid of it. Doesn’t that require a constitutional amendment? 

Nope! The filibuster is not required by the Constitution. In fact, the Founding Fathers were well aware of the dangers of minority rule and purposely designed the Senate to be majoritarian — i.e., they envisioned the need for only a simple majority to conduct Senate business. 

Eliminating the filibuster is simple. All it takes to eliminate the filibuster is a simple majority vote in the Senate — and this can be done at any time.   

 

How can I help get rid of the filibuster and save democracy? 

Doing what is necessary is often hard, especially when dealing with risk-averse members of Congress who often think it’s better to keep the status quo rather than take bold action. In order to get this done, it’ll take consistent pressure from constituents, from voters, and from the broader public. Constituents need to demand it from their Democratic Senators; voters need to demand it from presidential and Senate candidates, and get them to commit to eliminating it; and the public and civil society organizations need to call for it. We need to build momentum for eliminating the filibuster from now until the first day of the next Congress in 2021, and do everything we can to give Democrats control of Congress so that they can get it done.