Opioids Crisis Warren

U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren takes questions from the crowd at the Cape Cod Regional Technical High School in Harwich, Mass., in 2018 where the senator hosted a community event on the opiate crisis. 

Democratic presidential candidates need to get their priorities straight.

As nearly two dozen contenders compete for our attention with enticing proposals like Medicare for All or free college, the most important question to ask is not “how will you pay for that,” but rather “how will you pass that?”

In the U.S. Senate, the filibuster virtually blocks any legislation that doesn’t have the support of 60 senators. Originally a procedural quirk used to protect the minority party in extreme circumstances, the filibuster has recently become an obstruction tactic used to block any major legislation that the minority party doesn’t support.

If you wonder why nothing ever seems to get done in Washington, D.C. or why the Supreme Court seems to be doing more legislating than Congress, the filibuster is probably the answer.

So, when a top-tier candidate like U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Ver.) says that he’s “not too crazy about getting rid of the filibuster,” one must wonder: How does he plan on passing any major legislation?

There’s no way Democrats will win enough seats in 2020 to overcome the 60-vote threshold necessary to overcome a filibuster.

Winning a 50-seat simple majority will be tough enough, requiring Democrats to defend every seat they hold — including Doug Jones in Alabama — and unseat Republican incumbents in Arizona and Colorado.

Democrats winning all of these seats, and 10 more red-state seats, is nothing short of impossible.

So, if Democratic candidates truly believe a Green New Deal is necessary to save the environment from irreversible disaster, or that Medicare for All is the best way toward universal coverage, shouldn’t they also support doing away with the procedural roadblock stopping either of those platforms from ever becoming reality?

U.S. Senate Republicans recognize the filibuster is impossible to overcome, so they found ways to go around it.

Republicans rammed through massively unpopular tax cuts in 2017 using budget reconciliation, a procedural maneuver used to pass revenue-related legislation with a simple majority. Knowing now-Justice Neil Gorsuch wouldn’t receive bipartisan support for his confirmation, Republican’s enacted the “nuclear option” to lower the threshold for Supreme Court nominees to a simple majority.

Why should Democrats play by a different set of rules?

Sanders isn’t alone in his defense of the filibuster. U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) says that “We should not be doing anything to mess with the strength of the filibuster.” U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) is “conflicted.”

There are at least a few candidates who aren’t blind to political reality. To Gov. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.), “the time for the filibuster has come and gone.” South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg also supports the procedural reform.

But U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), arguably the best legislative mind in the 2020 field, says it best: “We’re done with two sets of rules — one for the Republicans and one for the Democrats.”

As you decide which candidate to support this primary season, be skeptical of any candidate who claims to support grandiose policy proposals like Medicare for All unless they also support the procedural reform necessary to translate those ideas into legislative reality.