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Ethan: First of all, when you say “Democrats,” I presume present company is excluded.
Phil: You finally left the party of President James Buchanan, by consensus the worst president in our history? Breaking news!
Ethan: Somehow I suspect Buchanan will soon be moving into “second worst.” But no, I am not leaving the party of FDR, JFK and LBJ. However, as you know, I have spoken up against the filibuster for 20 years.
Phil: Clearly not loud enough to have stopped Chuck Schumer from gridlocking the U.S. Senate when he was minority leader.
Ethan: My position has always been that it is antithetical to democracy to allow the minority to block the bulk of what the majority of this country wants implemented.
Phil: Another perspective is that the filibuster is to protect the minority from the tyranny of the majority. One would think that is something you agree with.
Ethan: Protecting the minority from the majority is what our Constitution and courts are ultimately for. When the majority kept our schools segregated, the courts stepped in. When the majority refused same-sex couples the right to marry, the same.
Phil: I am surprised if you believe that the minority position should only be protected as a last resort. The beauty of our Constitution is that it protects against oppression in multiple ways.
Ethan: Well, you know that the filibuster is not a creature of the Constitution. It didn’t even come about until 1805 when Sen. Aaron Burr was actually trying to streamline the institution by providing an opportunity to shut up his verbose colleagues!
Phil: Certainly true, but our Constitution does allow each legislative body to set its own rules and that is what the Senate did and has done for over 200 years.
Ethan: C’mon Phil, this myth that the filibuster is somehow used to protect the minority is absurd. It has been used to preserve slavery, protect Jim Crow, block anti-lynching laws, prevent immigrants from becoming citizens and, most recently, to stop minimum-wage workers from receiving a desperately needed raise. In none of those cases was the minority protected.
Phil: No one defends most of those decisions, but remember, many of them were originally implemented, or blocked from being changed, by just a simple majority. And your minimum wage vote didn’t even get 50 votes, let alone 60.
Ethan: Don’t remind me.
Phil: Remember, the filibuster has not only been used to block what you hate. It has also been used to serve your ends such as when it retained the death tax, protected abortion rights and blocked funding for the border wall. Whether I agree with the outcome or not, I will forever protect your right to use it.
Ethan: Gee, thanks.
Phil: Let me also say, I don’t actually support the filibuster simply because it blocks bad legislation. I also believe it can create better outcomes because it rewards bipartisanship. Case in point, the CARES Act. Then-President Donald Trump knew he needed bipartisan support for the legislation, and he got it with a 419-6 margin in the House and 96-0 margin in the Senate!
Ethan: Putting aside my opinion that you are giving Trump too much credit, I understand your point. But that legislation was to prevent an economic collapse. Thankfully, our Senate functions fine in extreme emergencies like pandemics, Wall Street collapses and war. It is the day-to-day functioning that concerns me.
Phil: Fine. In the Maine Legislature, there is nothing that impacts the day-to-day more than our state budget. And yet, that requires a two-thirds majority to pass. Despite that hurdle, our Legislature just passed a supplemental budget that this newspaper called “refreshing” for its bipartisanship.
Ethan: But those are bills that the Legislature is required by the state Constitution to pass. Almost every other bill only requires a majority. If it is good enough for Maine, it should be good enough for the U.S. Senate.
Phil: If the U.S. Senate were made up of more Mainers, I might agree with you.
Phil Harriman, a former town councilor and state senator from Yarmouth, is the founding partner of Lebel & Harriman, a financial services firm. Ethan Strimling, a former mayor and state senator from Portland, is the president of Swing Hard. Turn Left, which promotes progressive policy at the local, state and national levels.