The Cost of the Filibuster: Too Low and Too High.

Sparing you another attempt to explain the GameStop Short Squeeze. You’re welcome.

For a good many measures before the Senate, it takes not 51 votes, but 60 votes to pass. Technically not to pass, but to proceed to where they can be passed. The term for this is cloture—the closing of debate. Without cloture, the debate continues and the measure does not come up for a vote.

At one point in time, the filibuster, the continuation of debate, was much more obstructive than today. Today the filibuster approaches a practical veto without any cost to the Senator who wields it. The cost of raising an objection to progress in the Senate in modern times, under both parties, is farcical. They need not engage in incessant speech. They do not substantially obstruct the whole body of the Senate to block a measure. They simply place their padlock and move on. Only if enough members care about the measure will the boltcutters be brought in.

The way that a filibuster should work, must work for it to be a reasonable tool to keep around is that it must put the choice to all concerned. It must be a head-on collision if it is to be useful and not poison to the body. With a head-on collision, the parties must be sober about the conflict. Nothing can be done if the blockage is put up, and so both parties feel the pain. It is a sort of trial-by-combat measure: the opposition says they will not budge, the majority says they want the measure passed. Whoever cares most, their will endures and the measure passes or falls.

The dull-blade filibuster cuts the Senate far too often and without any settlement of long-standing issues. The log remains unhewn, while the wielder is constantly bloodied. It should not be so.

Whether the filibuster remains or falls away is not the question. The question is about the present form of the filibuster being unworkable. The majority should consider both options: either sharpen it or scuttle it.

Is one preferable, whether to the current agenda or the health of the Senate? Not really. The Senate’s health ultimately depends on being in a position to legislate again. Trial and error—experience—is how the Senate will wear down the rough edges that keep it from being capable of much legislation. That position comes in both cases.

In the case of a hard filibuster, on any given issue one of the two sides will fold. The legislation will move if the opposition caves, and won’t if the proponents cave (in all-or-nothing cases; if there’s a particular section to be amended, the legislation may survive even if a part falls). But after that point, the next item on the calendar may come up and, if it’s not worth the same do-or-die fight, it will be passed.

I do think having a tool for the minority to force an issue is useful from time to time. It puts things in perspective if there’s a cost to doing so. It’s a picked battle rather than another in a long line of vetos.

But keeping the filibuster as is does not serve the interest of the Senate, the minority, the majority, or anyone at all.