My sons learned how our democracy works this year in elementary school. We elect people to represent our communities in Congress, and then those people work in good faith to address complex problems for everyone in the nation.
Compromises are reached through public debate, and bills with majority support become law. It is a system where the most supported ideas are supposed to win — a system designed to be fair.
At least, it’s fair in the idealized grade school version. While my kids were studying, they were listening to the news and dinner conversations. “What does ‘filibuster’ mean?” they asked. I explained that even though one side might be able to win a majority of votes, the filibuster prevents the Senate from passing popular solutions that would improve the lives of people across the country — including strengthening democracy and improving infrastructure. “That’s not fair! That’s stupid,” the kids said.
They were even more angry to learn that a Senator from their own state was standing in the way. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., is allowing his Republican colleagues to prevent investigations into Jan. 6, weaken critical infrastructure bills as roads crumble in West Virginia and people are struggling to access broadband, block popular democracy reform legislation and more.
For example, before Republicans used the filibuster to block the Senate vote to investigate what happened at the Capitol on Jan. 6, Manchin said “So disheartening. It makes you really concerned about our country ... I’m still praying we’ve still got 10 good solid patriots within that conference.”
I agreed with Manchin on this — I also hoped that 10 Republican senators would not only be willing to investigate the attack, but also work as “good solid patriots” to find common sense solutions to many other issues impacting people across the country. I also agree with Manchin’s belief that common sense voting reform or infrastructure bills should attract Republican support. I share his hope that the Senate would function the way my kids learned about it in school: a place where facts and reason hold sway, a government by the people and for the people.
But it simply doesn’t, and I am one of many frustrated West Virginians painfully aware that this kind of bipartisanship doesn’t currently exist.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has repeatedly stated his opposition to any bill originating from Democratic lawmakers — he even went as far as to say that “100%” of the GOP’s focus “is on stopping” the Biden administration. His party uses the filibuster to avoid uncomfortable votes against policies their constituents want. The filibuster allows him to say “no” to everything, and then complain about how Congress isn’t getting anything done.
The filibuster is a parliamentary procedure — it’s not in the Constitution, it’s not celebrated on July 4, kids don’t learn about it when they study the foundations of our government. But as my sons point out, it’s not fair. It can be changed.
Surely, Manchin knows that the longer he holds out on taking concrete actions with the filibuster and waits for his colleagues to show any bipartisan spirit, the longer he deprives West Virginians of practical and widely popular solutions.
When my kids ask why Congress doesn’t just change the filibuster, I don’t have an answer for them. The filibuster is a tool being used by those who know their arguments cannot stand scrutiny. It is an arcane rule blocking legislation that could benefit all Americans. If my grade school kids can see that, Manchin and other career politicians can, too. Which raises the question: why is Manchin continuing to support it? Can he explain to grade schoolers in West Virginia — like my sons — that the filibuster is fair? Is this really how he thinks American democracy should function?