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What Senate filibuster deal tells young democracies like Egypt's

The Senate filibuster deal avoids the severe political backlash of the 'nuclear option' – for now. It recognizes the filibuster's historic role in protecting minority interests, a lesson for newly democratic countries like Egypt.

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“If representatives of some of the largest parties in Egypt are detained or excluded, how are dialogue and participation possible?” said US Deputy Secretary of State William Burns on a trip to Cairo this week.

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With proper checks and balances, government can encourage citizens to listen to each other and care about each other’s interests. At a base level, this creates mutual back-scratching deals, such as the Senate filibuster deal. At a higher level, it helps people understand how to balance the competing claims of the majority with those of either individuals or minority groups.

At the highest level of democracy, citizens operate out of a shared respect for those principles that are applicable to all, such as a reverence for life and equality of opportunity.

The filibuster has been abused in the past couple of decades by both parties, especially the GOP, ending the romance of its use made famous by actor Jimmy Stewart in the 1939 film “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” As a senator, now-Vice President Joe Biden said that “the Senate is not meant to be a place of pure majoritarianism.”

The filibuster is a focus now in part because of high voter frustration with Washington. Voting districts have been doctored to favor one or the other party forever. Campaign money pushes elected leaders to harden their views. Partisan think tanks treat political issues as intellectual warfare. Trust in government is near record lows.

A confrontation over the filibuster may erupt again. One way to settle the debate for good is to go through the process of seeing if the nation wants to amend the Constitution to make such a voting procedure a permanent fixture.

The Founding Fathers grappled with the limits of respecting minority interests. They agreed on having supermajorities to override a presidential veto, expel a member of Congress, approve treaties, convict in an impeachment, and propose a constitutional amendment. The Senate later added the filibuster.

Now today’s generations of Americans must reconsider the issue. Getting it right might even help the Egypts of the world as they, too, try to form a more perfect union.


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