I love baseball, and I loathe the Senate’s filibuster rule. Please humor an old history teacher and let me tell you what one has to do with the other.
Pat Venditte is an ambidextrous major league pitcher. From a young age, his father worked with him to develop the ability to throw with both hands. He was signed by the New York Yankees as a switch pitcher.
In a Class A game against the Brooklyn Cyclones, he made his professional debut in 2008. In the bottom of the 9th inning with two outs, he faced Ralph Henriquez. Henriquez was a switch hitter. He could bat from either side of the plate. It was showdown between a switch pitcher and a switch hitter.
Henriquez approached the plate ready to hit right handed. Venditte switched from southpaw to preparing to pitch with his right hand. At this point, Henriquez adjusted his position and prepared to hit left handed. Then Venditte switched back. Henriquez switched. Venditte switched.
Pitcher and batter had arrived at an impasse. Progress stopped. The game shut down. Both sides were stagnant.
Eventually, the umpires stepped in to end the stalemate. Not long after that game, Major League Baseball adopted a new rule known as the “Pat Venditte Rule.” The rule requires that the pitcher indicate the hand with which he intends to pitch, then commit to that hand for the duration of the batter’s plate appearance.
A rule was changed to prevent an impasse on the baseball field and herein lies the nexus with the Senate’s filibuster rule.
In the case of the dueling switch pitcher and switch hitter, it required a rule change to keep gameplay from shutting down. In the case of the U.S. Senate, it requires a rule change to prevent the government from shutting down.
Blame for this most recent 35-day shutdown can be almost exclusively borne by the extra-constitutional tradition in the Senate of allowing for the threat of a filibuster to bring all progress to a halt. It requires 60 votes to overcome this threat, and with the Senate divided as it is, that’s an unlikely number to reach on almost any measure.
The most recent shutdown was totally unnecessary. Shortly before Christmas last year, a majority of both the House and Senate supported fully funding the government and providing for border security. Stated another way, it was the majority will of the United States Congress to avoid a shutdown and secure our border.
Instead, a minority of senators was able to play politics, and with a weaponized filibuster threat, triggered what would become 35 days of a partially unfunded government.
As the recent shutdown continued, there was plenty of blame to be shared by both Democrats and Republicans. Each should have been willing to compromise much earlier in the process, but the catalyst for the shutdown was singular. The shutdown started because of a rule born of foolish tradition, not the Constitution.
It was the filibuster rule that shut down the government. The filibuster led us to an impasse; it halted progress, and it stopped the game as both sides were stagnant.
This has happened before, and it will happen again unless there is a rule change in the Senate.
As Major League Baseball changed the rules to avoid a shutdown on the diamond, so too must the United States Senate change the rules to avoid a future shutdown in our country.