Momentum for Filibuster Reform Increases as Biden Weighs In

March 19, 2021

While continuing to oppose its elimination altogether, President Biden abandoned his neutral stance on the filibuster and embraced a leading reform proposal, which would impact virtually every issue on the Association’s policy agenda.

Biden backs return to a “talking filibuster”:  “You have to do what it used to be when I first got to the Senate back in the old days,” Biden told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos in an interview.  “You had to stand up and command the floor, you had to keep talking so you’ve got to work for the filibuster…that’s what it was supposed to be.  It’s almost getting to the point where democracy is having a hard time functioning.” 

Such a requirement would increase the likelihood of enactment of new laws regarding immigration, LGBTQ rights, health care, pro-union labor reforms, gender pay equity, and paid leave.

Increase in filibuster threats:  In recent years, the instances of Senators persistently holding the floor in a “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”-styled filibuster have been rare.  Instead, any controversial bill is met with the threat of a filibuster.  Under current Senate rules, if a filibuster is threatened, the Senate can only move to passage of a bill if 60 Senators pass a cloture motion.  In recent years, threats of filibusters by both parties have become common as Congress has become more partisan.  To compare: In the 1977-78 Congress, there were 13 cloture votes; in the 2019-20 Congress, that number had risen to 298.

Outlook:  Any proposed change in the filibuster rules will be opposed by Republicans, as it would by Democrats if Republicans were in the majority.  Thus, a change will require the support of all Democrats plus Vice President Kamala Harris.  The leading moderate Senate Democrat, Joe Manchin (D-WV), has suggested sympathy for a “talking filibuster” requirement but has since wavered.