Most Democrats say they'd end it, as a general matter, according to a CBS News poll from Jan. 2022. Two-thirds of Republicans say they'd keep it.

But the partisan split appears strongly connected to more immediate policy concerns. Of the Democrats who feel it's very important to pass a federal voting rights bill, an even higher portion, seven in 10, would generally end the filibuster. That, of course, is the measure over which some Democratic leaders have discussed ending it.

President Joe Biden has called on the Senate to make an exception to its filibuster rules to allow Congress to codify abortion protections and privacy rights previously afforded under Roe v. Wade.


According to the article, two-thirds of the Republicans want to keep the filibuster while the majority of Democrats want to end it. Is there a political reason why a majority of Republicans want to keep it when it prevents work from getting done in the Senate? What are the possible reasons for this wide gap in opinion between the two political parties?


2 Answers 2


The filibuster benefits the minority party, especially when that party doesn't control the Whitehouse. So when there is a Democratic party president, and a Democratic majority in the Senate, the the filibuster benefits the Republican party. It is no surprise, therefore that Republicans support it now, and Democrats would get rid of it.

But wait around a few years until the Democrats are in a minority and are using the filibuster to block Republican legislation, and you will find that the opinion on the filibuster will switch.

As the Democratic party has an electoral disadvantage in the Senate (small states are rural states, and they hold a majority of the electorate) in the long term, the filibuster benefits the Democratic party. This is why Democratic legislators are loathe to invoke the "nuclear option" to get laws passed. They fear such a decision would leave them unable to block future Republican legislation.

In a sense, it doesn't "prevent the Senate from doing business", it is "working as intended". The point being that if you want to make laws in the USA you need to either have overwhelming support from the voters, or work on a bill that has sufficient bi-partisan support. And if you can't get bipartisan support, you should not make new laws. This assumption that laws should not be passed may be surprising, but it is how the US political system works.

  • 8
    While this seems somewhat plausible this would be a lot more credible with some source from the past when the Republicans were in power. I'm sure this isn't the first time ending the filibuster was discussed but if these discussion only happen when the Democrats are in power I would consider absence of evidence as evidence of absence in this case.
    – quarague
    Feb 26 at 7:33
  • 10
    "working as intended" is kind of debatable, I'd say. Was the filibuster always used as a means to indefinitely block legislation that doesn't have a super-majority behind it? Or maybe this role has evolved over time. I would mostly argue that the filibuster protects the status quo, it benefits whoever doesn't want things to change. This can be good or bad and maybe it was intended, or maybe it wasn't or maybe it was intended but not that strongly. Politics 150 years ago was much more dynamic than today (do we invade Mexico, do we buy Cuba, should California be a territory or a state, ...). Feb 26 at 8:05
  • 11
    I would question that it is working as intended when you just have to say that you are going to filibuster something but don’t have to actually filibuster it like you do at the state level. It is this way because of overuse of the filibuster and the change made it worse.
    – Joe W
    Feb 26 at 16:04
  • 8
    @Barmar Yes "Working as intended" is not "working how I want". It isn't a democracy and doesn't claim to be. It is intended to prevent legislation. Where I come from the government is free to legislate, but the US system is designed to make it very hard for federal laws to be passed. My own opinions on how broken this is are irrelevant - this level of brokenness is intended by the rules of the senate.
    – James K
    Feb 26 at 18:46
  • 6
    But the right of the Senate to create their own rules is enshrined.
    – James K
    Feb 26 at 19:02

While there is truth to the James K answer, there's some power dynamics at play.

The Senate has been steadily chipping away at the Filibuster using the so-called Nuclear option to change Senate rules with a simple majority vote

  • Democrats removed it for non-SCOTUS judicial nominees and cabinet positions in 2013
  • Republicans removed it for SCOTUS nominees in 2017

All that remains now is the legislative filibuster. Republicans could have removed it in 2017-2019 (held both chambers, the House and the Presidency). Why didn't they? Mostly because the Filibuster isn't as large an impediment to conservative goals

Now the game is “reconciliation.” Filibusters aren’t allowed under reconciliation, so all it takes for passage is 51 votes. But reconciliation also limits debate and the type of amendments that can be offered – precisely the kind of restrictions Senators from both parties are often reluctant to accept. It takes foresight and advanced parliamentary maneuvering to go the reconciliation route. But it’s easier than breaking a filibuster. Obamacare passed via reconciliation. So did COBRA in 1986 and the Children’s Health Insurance Program in 1997. The Reagan and Bush tax cuts passed that way too. Although reconciliation was created in 1974, it wasn’t used until 1980. Overall, Congress has used reconciliation 25 times.

McConnell has other filibuster-busting tools at his disposal: fast track authority for trade agreements, and the Congressional Review Act which allows Congress to overturn federal agency rules. Under fast track, the Senate can approve international trade deals without having to worry about a filibuster. And the Congressional Review Act, lets the Senate nullify certain federal agency rules filibuster-free. Before this year, the Review Act had been used only once. Thus far in 2017, it has been used 13 times, overturning Obama-era regulations on matters such as privacy protections for broadband users, limits on gun purchases by the mentally ill, and disclosure requirements for oil company payments to foreign governments.

Democrats already use these tools to get some of their priorities as well (such as the Inflation Reduction Act, passed via Reconciliation).

Democrats are trying to pass larger-scale legislation

There have been several large pieces of legislation introduced in the 2021-2023 Congress where Democrats tried (and failed) to get them through because of the Filibuster

  • The Freedom to Vote Act, which would have nationalized several parts of the election code and swept away most Republican voting laws
  • The Judiciary Act of 2023 would have added four seats to the Supreme Court, all picked by President Biden
  • Medicare for All would have expanded Medicare (taxpayer medical coverage for US citizens 65 and older) to all US citizens.

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