Why Kyrsten Sinema's fears about a post-filibuster GOP may be exaggerated

Kyrsten Sinema.
(Image credit: Samuel Corum/Getty Images)

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) explained why she opposes nuking the filibuster in an op-ed published by The Washington Post on Tuesday night, citing fears that the Republican Party would rescind major Democrat-backed legislation, like sweeping voting reform measures or expanded health-care access or retirement benefits, and replace them with pared down, more restrictive laws.

In a rebuttal, New York's Jonathan Chait argues that Sinema's filibuster defense "relies on utterly false grounds." He writes that much of what Sinema said she wants to protect by preserving the 60-vote threshold, including funding for Medicare, Medicaid, and women's reproductive services, can be slashed via budget reconciliation, which, as Democrats displayed earlier this year when passing coronavirus relief funding, requires only a simple majority vote. And while Sinema also cites clean and air water regulations that can't be repealed through reconciliation, Chait points out that their enforcement can be "defunded, or simply curtailed through administrative neglect, neither of which is subject to filibustering."

Regardless, Chait doesn't think Republicans have much to gain in the long run in the absence of the filibuster. He notes the GOP didn't move to eliminate "the vast array of federal programs cherished by Democrats" the last two times they had a double majority in Congress and the presidency. That's because "nearly all those programs are popular" among voters, including many Republicans, making their demise too risky for GOP lawmakers. "A system in which both parties can advance their popular beliefs when they have full control of government therefore benefits disproportionately," he writes. Read Sinema's op-ed at The Washington Post and Chait's rebuttal at New York.

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Tim O'Donnell

Tim is a staff writer at The Week and has contributed to Bedford and Bowery and The New York Transatlantic. He is a graduate of Occidental College and NYU's journalism school. Tim enjoys writing about baseball, Europe, and extinct megafauna. He lives in New York City.