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Sinema’s Op-Ed Defending the Filibuster Is a Triumph for Republican Obstruction

The senator’s argument comes just as Republicans are about to use the filibuster to block voting rights legislation.

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema arrives for a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee markup in Dirksen Building on June 16, 2021.

In an op-ed published in The Washington Post just before Republicans were set to block the Democrats’ voting rights bill using the Senate filibuster, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Arizona) made a number of arguments in favor of keeping the Senate filibuster that critics pointed out were flawed at best and completely false at worst.

In the article, Sinema laid out her reasons for being one of the Senate’s staunchest supporters of the filibuster by mostly resting on the flawed argument that if Democrats get rid of the filibuster to pass bills, then Republicans will undo those bills if they regain the majority.

Predictably, much as her fellow filibuster defender Sen. Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) contends, Sinema concludes that members of Congress should focus on bipartisanship instead. “The best way to achieve durable, lasting results? Bipartisan cooperation,” she writes, seemingly ignoring the fact that Republicans have stated that their only goal is obstruction.

Political analysts and journalists expressed frustration with Sinema’s op-ed, saying that her arguments — “We have more to lose than gain by ending the filibuster” — were weak and easily disproved.

Sinema writes that if Democrats were to pass healthcare reform after eliminating the filibuster, Republicans could slash Medicare, social security or women’s reproductive health funding when they are in the majority. Or, if Democrats passed legislation on climate or education, Republicans would retaliate by shrinking budgets and federal agencies — something Republicans did anyway under Trump.

As critics of the op-ed pointed out, Republicans could make changes right now to nearly all of the things she mentions using reconciliation, which only requires a simple majority vote. Indeed, Democrats are currently working on a plan that uses budget reconciliation to expand Medicare coverage, among other proposals like infrastructure funding.

Meanwhile, if Republicans gain control of the Senate and Democrats attempt to block their goals, political writers have predicted, they are very likely to get rid of the filibuster. After all, toward the beginning of his presidency, former President Donald Trump had urged the GOP to get rid of the filibuster. The party has only grown more extreme since then.

“The doomsday scenarios Sinema lays out are either already possible via reconciliation, or will happen anyway if Republicans decide they really want them to pass,” wrote Adam Jentleson, who was senior aide to former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, on Twitter. “Republicans will eliminate the filibuster themselves as soon as it stands in the way of something they really want.”

Sinema’s op-ed so confounded liberals and progressives alike that even moderate pundits like New York’s Jonathan Chait and Vox co-founder Ezra Klein shared their frustration with her arguments. Sinema’s argument is “built on a mistrust of voters’ intelligence and a rejection of elections as a method of holding politicians accountable,” wrote Klein. “That Sinema is using it to help the GOP block bills to strengthen elections is, thus fitting.”

Indeed, the fact that the GOP hasn’t yet used reconciliation to severely weaken many popular democratic programs like Medicare is proof positive to some pundits that the program’s popularity speaks for itself when Republicans run for re-election. In other words, if Democrats passed popular proposals like Joe Biden’s infrastructure bill, a $15 federal minimum wage or Medicare for All, for instance, the GOP may not want to repeal the bills for fear of facing voters’ wrath.

But by blocking Democratic proposals while Democrats have power of the Senate, the House and the White House, Republicans are able to paint the Democrats as incompetent. People like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) have pointed out that keeping the filibuster could end up working against Democrats because “the bottom line is the American people want results.”

Meanwhile, as some political writers have pointed out, the filibuster currently stands in the way of an immediate issue: Democrats protecting voting rights. At the state level, Republicans are already passing legislation with the goal of suppressing voters — legislation that Sinema is helping to uphold with her support of the filibuster.

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