How the Filibuster Helps Democratic Senators


One thing that it’s important to understand about the role of the filibuster in the legislative process is that while it’s bad for the country and good for the minority political party, it’s also good for the individual members of the majority party. When you look, for example, at the House of Representatives’ debate on the stimulus plan you’ll see that there were actually a number of Democratic members who weren’t on board for the leadership’s plan. But you didn’t really see them on TV or read about them in the newspapers or hear about their ideas. Nor did you see the leadership making a big effort to change the plan to suit their needs. A really big bloc of majority party legislators can change a House bill, and senior members of the party who have leadership positions or chair important committees and subcommittees can change a House bill, but a few random members can just be ignored. Why? Because their votes aren’t needed. Nancy Pelosi can just say, “fine, vote ‘no’ if you want.”

But with a de facto 60 vote supermajority requirement in place in the Senate, not only do Senate Republicans have the ability to block all legislation and ensure that progressive policy is impossible, but each and every individual Democratic Senator can hold a bill hostage. So if Bill Nelson or Mary Landrieu or whomever has some kind of problem with the details of something, or some pet project they want, then the leadership has little ability to say no to them.