With the financial security of our country in the balance, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell finally gathered enough Republican senators to break the Republican filibuster of the debt ceiling increase. He made clear that the next time the debt ceiling issue comes up, he will not “help” to pass any new legislation. I don’t think McConnell really understands what it means to help.
Many of you who grew up with Mr. Rogers will recognize the quote, “Look for the Helpers.” It is one that has been brought up frequently in times of natural disaster, mass casualty events, school shootings and back to 9/11. It is meant to reassure children, and maybe more so their parents, to know what to do when things are outside our control.
Too often now, we make it seem that things are out of control, when they really should be handled safely and easily. Mass shootings have become a normal part of our lives because of the inability of Congress to do anything to implement common sense gun control that an overwhelming majority of Americans support.
Thousand-year and hundred-year floods are becoming century and decade floods because we can’t accomplish anything on climate change.
And we find ourselves in perpetual standoff over fundamental operations of our government when we can’t pass what has historically been a mostly nonpartisan issue of passing debt ceiling increases.
The obstacle to all of this has become the filibuster. The filibuster itself is not the problem with some of the more mundane issues such as the debt ceiling. Historically, statewide elections for senators meant that candidates had to appeal to enough moderates to gain election.
Instead, we have seen state electorates become more polarized, making the primaries where senators are selected by the partisan party rather than the general election. With increasingly fewer exceptions, senators are appealing to their partisan base, not to their full constituencies in their states.
The results increasingly infrequent compromise or finding of a middle. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W. Va.), though nominally a Democrat, were he in the typical state represented by a Democrat, he would most certainly be a Republican. With Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), no one really knows what she is thinking. Amongst the Republicans, now only Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) might be considered the only moderate.
Where this leaves us is the warped idea that Sen. McConnell is “helping” by breaking the filibuster. The debt ceiling increase would easily pass without the partisan filibuster. Helping would imply there is nothing else that can be done to prevent the situation we are in, and that is patently false. The filibuster is a very conscious and active decision by the minority to block legislation.
The filibuster has been done historically to block key civil rights advancements and protect the political minority’s right to disenfranchise racial minorities. While arguments are being made to protect the institutional rights of the political minority, we continue to block the inclusion of individual Americans’ rights to human and civil rights.
We need to decide now as a country if it is more important to protect political power or fundamental human rights because those in the senate are more concerned about their own political power than actually helping.
David Inoue is executive director of the JACL. He is based in the organization’s Washington, D.C., office.