First, do no harm.
Doctors take the Hippocratic Oath, or a similar pledge, to guide them in caring for the sick. Sometimes, it may be better to do nothing rather than intervene with a treatment that causes more harm than good.
The same idea can work for politicians, especially in the U. S. Senate. First, do no harm by upholding the filibuster.
The filibuster (a lengthy debate or stalling tactic) and its subsequent cloture rule (requiring a super majority of 60 votes) are the only things ensuring that consensus is at least attempted on decisions that greatly affect the country—no matter which party is in power.
Without these two tools, the whims of any slim majority could push through legislation that meets only the ideology of its own political party.
But that’s not why they’re there. The good of the entire country must be considered.
That didn’t stop the current Democratic majority, earlier this year, from trying to eliminate the filibuster. Fortunately, Sens. Joe Manchin and Krysten Sinema had the courage to oppose their party’s power grab and derailed it.
But they tried. They forgot the mistakes of the past.
In 2013, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid led his Democratic party in eliminating the 60-vote rule for federal judicial nominations. It was a victory for the Obama Administration, then, and a defeat for the Republicans.
The problem is no one party stays in power forever. Short-sightedness is not wisdom. It’s folly. When the Republicans regained power in 2016, they seized on the precedent and included nominees to the Supreme Court. They seated three.
And now with the recent overturn of Roe v. Wade, sending abortion rights or restrictions back to the states, some Democrats want to pack the court—increase the number of justices on the Supreme Court—and eliminate the filibuster in order to help them do that.
Politicians preoccupied with ending the filibuster should read, “Filibusters and Cloture in the Senate,” by the Congressional Research Service. It states, “…the possibility of filibusters creates a powerful incentive for Senators to strive for legislative consensus. The votes of only a majority of Senators present and voting are needed to pass a bill on the floor. It can, however, require the votes of 60 Senators to invoke cloture on the bill in order to overcome a filibuster and enable the Senate to reach that vote on final passage…Although true consensus on major legislation issues may be impossible, the dynamics of the Senate’s legislative process do promote efforts to come as close to consensus as the strongly held beliefs of Senators permit.”
Elected officials must be forced to work together this way.
Term limits would be the best way to maximize selfless productivity in Congress. It would create a sense of urgency to reach across the aisle and get some good things done with the limited amount of time they have. But it requires politicians to vote against their own self interests.
Term limits legislation will never pass.
The filibuster and cloture are the next, best thing to keep trying to find common ground.
It’s so important that it should require a pledge of some sort. Here’s a “Filibuster Protection Oath” possibility: “I promise to uphold the filibuster. I understand it will sometimes make it more difficult to pass legislation that my party favors. But I believe it would be better if politicians did nothing at all before harming the country by ending the filibuster.”
A filibuster protection oath will never happen.
But at a minimum, candidates running for election this fall should declare whether or not they support the filibuster and cloture rule.
Those who don’t may do more harm than good.