Something that I don’t really understand about the filibuster is how it is that the perception is so widespread that constant filibustering is a longstanding tradition. I used to think that was the case, but that’s because filibustermania has existed throughout the entirety of my relatively brief political consciousness. But surely lots of people remember the Carter and Reagan administrations? As UCLA political scientist Barbara Sinclair tells Ezra Klein:
And is there a particular moment where the filibusters accelerate? Or is the rise gradual?
It’s gradual, to some extent. But in terms of its impact on legislation, it really has a big impact from the first Clinton Congress on. If one can say there’s a break point, that’s where filibusters become a regularly used partisan tool.
Previously, the filibuster frequently had some partisan element, but you’d have a lot of cases where individuals or small groups would hold them. But now it’s much more a tool of the minority party. And the minority party is organized and relatively large, even when it’s small by our standards. Forty Republicans is as small as it’s been in a long, long time. That still means if you really get the minority to hang together, everyone on the other side becomes key.
Was anyone really sitting around in 1990 or so and saying to themselves “the big problem with the American government is that if you have majority support for something in the House and the Senate and the relevant Congressional committees and the President supports it and it passes muster with the Supreme Court, then that thing just might get done?” If they were, shifting to a 60-vote threshold for Senate action solves the problem. But what could the problem have possibly been?