By: Bohan Gao Edited By: Ashlyn Bi October 30, 2023
American democracy has always rested upon the principle of choice, allowing. However, this freedom in decision-making is under stress as our current political landscape is characterized by intense polarization and stalemate, delaying the passage of critical legislation. There is a growing desire for reform in the Senate, particularly in amending Rule 22 to lower the threshold for invoking cloture in debates to a majority of 51 votes. This change is essential to restoring our democratic processes, as the bedrock of democracy is majority rule. Proponents contend that a working democracy requires an active government. As Alex Tausanovitch explains, because the country is divided along party lines, there exists a “vast, unbridgeable” split between the 51st and 60th vote in the Senate. Due to this immense disparity, the Senate cannot pass policies that benefit the people. Critics view this as inherently undemocratic, since the majority is not 60%, but 51%. Thus, altering Rule 22 is pivotal, since bills must pass if the Senate is to make any progress. Binder concludes that, because of Rule 22, 75% of policies are shot down due to gridlock, which is when parties don’t reach consensus to pass a bill. When a government does not effectively function, constituents become disheartened as they perceive it as not serving their needs.
On the other hand, imagine a world where all you need to pass nationwide legislation is a simple majority. According to political commentator Grace Segers in 2020, in such a world, if a Democratic Congress enacts single-payer health care, “when Republicans retake the majority, they could reverse that decision.” The filibuster prevents vast swings in policy. Every two years, the composition of the Senate shifts, and our entire federal legislative agenda would switch back and forth, allowing the abolition of all previous legislation with every party shift. Huge policies may pass, but their imminent repeal will result in an even less effective legislating body.
Furthermore, according to Senate expert Rachel Bovard in 2017, “The framers designed the Senate to be a consensus-driven body. If a majority party knows they need to garner 60 votes to end debates on a bill, the necessity of working across the aisle, negotiating, and finding areas of agreement becomes imperative, rather than optional.” The impact of this bipartisanship is less polarization and an increase in meaningful legislation.
Polarization and the resulting gridlock, negatively impacts future policymaking. Policy analyst Zaid Jilani explains that “for many of the issues we think of as most polarizing—like guns or immigration—there is wide consensus.” For instance, 90 percent of Americans support universal background checks, but polarization prevents us from seeing that. Additionally, Jiliani explains this results in material violence: “In polarized situations, we stop seeing people in competing groups as human beings—and that is very dangerous. Since the 2016 election, hate crimes have risen… One 2018 study linked these trends to ‘partisan identity strength.’”
Additionally, eliminating the filibuster is not necessary to pass significant bills. Journalist Benjamin Din outlines the efforts of the G-20, a group of 10 Democratic and 10 Republican senators, as they work actively to reduce polarization and address the challenge of overcoming the 60 votes needed if filibusters are initiated. They focus on various issues, including minimum wage, immigration, and infrastructure.
Ultimately, constituents deserve to have choices—otherwise our freedom of choice becomes meaningless. Gridlock prevents laws that could provide these very choices from being established, yet the partisan divide also imperils the laws that pass. Should Rule 22 be amended so that the number of votes required to invoke cloture on any debate is 51? Does this help or hurt American democracy? At the end of the day, the question comes down to this: when it’s time to stop asking, start acting.
Rodriguez, Christian. “The Impact of the Filibuster on Federal Policymaking.” Center for American Progress, 14 Dec. 2021,
Segers, Grace. “Filibuster or Bust: How Senate Democrats Could Get Rid of the Filibuster.” CBS News, 12 Aug. 2020,
“Arguments for and Against the Filibuster, 2021 - Ballotpedia.” Ballotpedia, ballotpedia.org/Arguments_for_and_against_the_filibuster,_2021
“What Is the True Cost of Polarization in America?” Greater Good, greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/what_is_the_true_cost_of_polarization_in_america
“Latest Bipartisan Gang Tries to Save Senate From Itself.” POLITICO, 18 Mar. 2021, www.politico.com/news/2021/03/18/senate-filibuster-bipartisan-group-476829