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To get things done for the American people, Democrats must end the Senate filibuster

The Hill logo The Hill 5/4/2021 Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), opinion contributor
Sean Patrick Maloney wearing a suit and tie: To get things done for the American people, Democrats must end the Senate filibuster © Greg Nash To get things done for the American people, Democrats must end the Senate filibuster

Growing up as the youngest of six in an Irish Catholic family, I learned early on that you need to speak up to have a say in family activities. If I disagreed with one brother's suggestions to go fishing or ride our bikes, I needed to have a better idea. I also needed to get a majority of siblings to agree with my new plan. I couldn't just shake my head and shut down the whole family for the day. Maybe that's why I find the filibuster so infuriating - it runs counter to everything I learned as a child about how to get things done.

I first ran for Congress in 2012 to fix a broken Washington and deliver change for my community in New York's Hudson Valley and for hardworking families across the country. I'm a Democrat from a district Donald Trump won in 2016, so I understand that America wants real change and deserves a government that solves problems.

After four years of chaos and dysfunction, voters put their trust in Democrats to get us back on course. Under the leadership of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), House Democrats have stepped up to the plate to pass transformative legislation to do just that. In the last two years, the House passed over 400 bipartisan bills that languished and died in a gridlocked Senate. At this very moment, a critical bill called the For The People Act, which would strengthen voting rights and secure our elections, is stuck in the Senate. Georgia Republicans just gutted voting rights with a sinister new law designed to make it harder for communities of color to vote, and 43 states are currently trying to restrict access to the ballot box. We need the For The People Act to combat this blatant voter suppression. The House has also voted to reauthorize the lapsed Violence Against Women Act, raise the minimum wage to $15, implement policing reforms with the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, and institute comprehensive background checks to reduce gun violence.

The House, which operates like my large but functional family did, has delivered on these promises for the American people - and now the ball is in the Senate's court. But the Senate hasn't even considered many of these reforms because of one thing - the filibuster. The Senate filibuster has hamstrung Congress' ability to get things done for the American people for far too long. The filibuster allows a minority of 41 (out of 100) senators to kill legislation, so bills passed in the House simply expire. By letting the filibuster block the reforms that the American people are demanding, the Senate is choosing gridlock over progress.

Make no mistake - some senators have preferred it that way. Segregationists frequently employed the filibuster to prevent the Senate from voting on civil rights legislation, including anti-lynching bills. In 1957, notorious racist then-Sen. Strom Thurmond (D-S.C.) read newspapers and books on the Senate floor for over 24 hours in an attempt to talk the Civil Rights Act to death. Today, a senator doesn't even need to speak for hours to block a bill. All they need to do is threaten to procedurally object and the bill won't even be discussed. That's no way to govern, and as every American family knows, it's no way to get things done.

Right now, history is repeating itself. We are allowing the Senate to hold up another landmark civil rights bill; this time, it's the For The People Act. Democrats must eliminate the filibuster, a shameful anti-democratic relic of Jim Crow, so that we can secure the right to vote and fulfill our promises to the American people. We have the power to get rid of the filibuster - all we need now is the courage.

The American people put Democrats in charge because they're tired of Washington not working for them. We have no choice but to take bold action to tackle the problems that keep folks up at night - and that starts with eliminating the filibuster. Democrats aren't going to win on a platform of inaction. To keep our promises to the American people, we must get out of our own way.

Last month, President Biden signed the American Rescue Plan. This bill delivered direct relief to families, resources to keep schools open and safe, and funding to vaccinate the country fast. The American Rescue Plan is historic legislation that has already given American families a leg up. But the pandemic has not ended, and Congress's solutions can't either. Congress has the opportunity, and the obligation, to enact more transformative policies that will directly impact Americans' lives. After four years of chaos, Washington has a chance to function again. Step one: get rid of the filibuster.

Sean Patrick Maloney represents the 18th District of New York and is chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

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