Writing about the U.S Senate in Federalist 62, James Madison said that one advantage of the body was “the additional impediment it must prove against improper acts of legislation.” The idea was that the House of Representatives would, by nature, pass bills based on the hot tempers of the moment, while the Senate would, by nature, cool those tempers down and ensure legislation was proper and to the benefit of everyone. This represents the genius of our founders, and for two centuries, it has helped to keep our country from sliding down dangerous paths.
Now, if Senate Democrats are successful at eliminating the 60-vote threshold for legislation, known as the filibuster, then the original vision of the Senate will be distorted, and our constitutional system will fall into turmoil. Thankfully, two Democrats — Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia — aren’t going along with their party’s schemes, and in doing so, are protecting our very system of governance.
What Sinema and Manchin are doing is laudable, and I say that as a lifelong Republican. We can hash out our political policy differences another day, but on an issue as critical to the health of our democracy as this one, we should all be on the same team. Unfortunately, the Democratic establishment seems to be caving to its far-left base in order to ram through a laundry list of partisan priorities while the party still has a unified, if slim, control of government.
But that’s not how our government is supposed to work. The framers of the Constitution, such as Madison and Alexander Hamilton, believed in majority rule but with minority input. That way, everyone, not just the party in power at a particular moment, has a voice in shaping major legislation that determines the future of our nation.
The filibuster is an essential tool in keeping our lawmakers accountable to that principle. It forces them to find common ground with their political opponents, seek compromise, and craft solutions to major problems. It ensures that Madison’s vision described in Federalist 62 carries on: that the Senate would cool the tempers of the present political winds. Without it, the once august body would just become another House of Representatives.
We can do better than this because in the past, America has always risen to the challenge of the day. Leading is never easy, but history proves that it’s the most difficult challenges that yield the best results.
I’m glad that Sinema and Manchin understand this. Whenever they’ve been pressed by the media or activists, they’ve held firm. Rather than calling into question the validity of our most important institutions, they’ve called into question the actions of today’s lawmakers. That’s truly the essence of this issue. If lawmakers want to get things done, as we all want them to, then they should start taking the necessary steps to do so. That means seeking compromise and hashing out the issues until they reach a solution. To change the rules of the game because it’s hard is akin to giving up.
U.S. history is filled with figures who, when the rubber met the road, took a stand and did what was right. Sinema and Manchin are doing so now by working to protect the filibuster. All of us, no matter our political affiliation, should be thanking them.
Zach Wamp, a Republican, represented Tennessee's 3rd Congressional District in Congress from 1995-2011.