If Sen. Elizabeth Warren got her way and the Senate filibuster were eliminated, it’s likely Congress already would have gutted Obamacare, allocated billions of more dollars to President Trump’s border wall and even erased the Massachusetts Democrat’s own brainchild idea, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which grew out of the Wall Street collapse a decade ago.
Republicans love to warn Democrats of those outcomes, yet Ms. Warren remains one of the most prominent warriors looking to end the 60-vote filibuster threshold in the Senate, saying it’s doing more harm than good to liberals’ agenda.
For Ms. Warren, the risks of what the GOP might do unhindered by a filibuster is less worrying than the hopes of what she might be able to achieve as a president if she’s not encumbered.
That stance puts her out in front of her other chief competitors. Neither former Vice President Joseph R. Biden nor Sen. Bernard Sanders has embraced the end of the filibuster, which is perhaps the best-known feature of the upper chamber, saying they want to win under the current rules by building movements or striking bipartisan deals.
That’s a fantasy, says Ms. Warren, pointing to the lack of big bills that have passed over the last decade.
“I stood in the U.S. Senate in 2013 when 54 senators voted in favor of gun legislation and it didn’t pass because of the filibuster,” Ms. Warren said during Democrats’ primary debate this month. “We have got to attack the corruption and repeal the filibusters, or the gun industry will always have a veto over what happens.”
The idea of doing away with the filibuster was unthinkable 20 years ago, when it was used more sparingly. But two decades of partisan battles have made both Republicans and Democrats ponder life without it.
Democrats expanded use of the filibuster 15 years ago, attacking President George W. Bush’s judicial nominees and bringing Republicans to the brink of a rules change. The GOP backed off, but in 2013, when Republicans used the filibuster against President Barack Obama’s nominees, then-Majority Leader Harry Reid pulled the trigger on the “nuclear option” and curtailed the filibuster for most nominees.
Jim Manley, a Democratic strategist who was a top aide to Mr. Reid at the time, says any presidential hopeful who is touting a bold progressive plan will need to think like Ms. Warren.
“If she is at all serious about enacting her broad, sweeping legislative agenda, then doing away with the filibuster is the only way that it is going to get done,” he told The Washington Times. “Others are dancing around it, talking about big sweeping proposals, but refusing to take it to the logical conclusion: if it is not all talk, you have to do away with the filibuster.”
President Trump has aired his own frustrations with the filibuster over the last few years as Democrats used it to stymie his agenda.
Attempts to overhaul immigration law, get money to build his border fence, or to cleanly repeal Obamacare were all doomed by Democrats’ ability to filibuster.
Mr. Trump has pressured Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to get rid of the filibuster, saying Democrats will do it when they get the chance, so the GOP should beat them to it.
The Kentucky Republican has resisted. In an August op-ed, Mr. McConnell called the ability to filibuster and gum up the legislative works a defining part of the Senate.
“These are features, not bugs,” he wrote in The New York Times.
During Mr. Reid’s 2013 nuclear option filibuster changes, the GOP made clear what mischief it could make without having to abide by a filibuster.
Sen. Lamar Alexander, Tennessee Republican, crafted a list that included repealing Obamacare and completing the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository that Mr. Reid was able to fend off from his home state of Nevada, chiefly thanks to the filibuster.
Mr. Alexander also pointed to another target: the CFPB, which was Ms. Warren’s own idea for a financial cop to patrol Wall Street in the wake of the 2008 recession.
Mr. Alexander said this week that the filibuster remains central to good legislating.
“The legislative filibuster protects the minority from the tyranny of the majority,” he said Tuesday. “It forces senators to stop, think and come up with bipartisan solutions to big problems that the country is more likely to accept.
“Without the filibuster, whatever passed the House would run through the Senate like a freight train and it wouldn’t be long before the American people would be very unhappy about that,” he said.
David McIntosh, president of the conservative Club for Growth, said Ms. Warren’s push is based on “a very short-sighted calculus” and could lead to radical swings between far-right and far-left governance.
“I think Elizabeth Warren wants to eliminate it because she wants to ram her socialist agenda down the throats of the minority in Washington,” he said, alluding to a hypothetical Democratic sweep in the 2020 elections. “But as soon as the next election occurs and the other party is in the majority, then all the agenda gets undone with a simple majority vote.”
Mr. McIntosh said the CFBP would have been repealed if Republicans adopted the rule change in 2017.
Mr. Manley, though, said the filibuster is a dead man walking. It’s just a matter of which party delivers the kill shot.
“If Democrats win the presidency and Senate, shortly after the election Democratic leaders are going to have to have a real come-to-Jesus meeting about what they will do with the filibuster if they are serious about getting things done in this hyperpartisan environment,” he said.