Why Washington gets so little done



Cloture ends filibusters because it ends everything else, too. According to Senate Rule XXII, once the Senate invokes cloture, “then said measure, motion or other matter pending before the Senate, or the unfinished business, shall be the unfinished business to the exclusion of all other business until disposed of.” In other words, senators have to hit the brakes on everything but that clotured bill until they’ve brought the bill to a vote.

Now, instead of debating legislation one bill at a time, lawmakers cram as much into every bill as they can. There are fewer bills passed. They’re just much, much longer. The 80th Congress of 1947 and 1948, which President Harry Truman famously attacked as the “Do Nothing Congress” during his 1948 re-election campaign, enacted 906 bills. That’s more than three times the 283 bills that the 116th Congress produced in 2019 and 2020.

Why not end the filibuster? Republicans don’t want to give up their power. And some Democrats, like West Virginia’s Manchin, warn that if Washington seems hyper-partisan now, it would get much worse if one party could pass a bill without help from the other. His vote would be necessary to reinterpret the rules. Manchin and Biden both suggested earlier in 2021 that Congress revert filibusters to the talking-only, Mr. Smith style that was the norm before the 1960s. Pressure could build on Manchin, however, if the filibuster keeps Democrats from delivering on Biden’s campaign promises.

“No,” he told CNN. “I can’t take the fallout.”

That all but ensures that the filibuster is here to stay.

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