President Joe Biden and the Democrats in Congress have a long and admirable list of goals they want to achieve before the 2022 Congressional election likely steals away their slim majorities in the House and, possibly, the Senate – restoring voting rights, passing a major infrastructure bill, passing an even bigger “human infrastructure” bill, forestalling an economic crisis by raising the debt ceiling, rationalizing the nation’s immigration system and more.
Because they do have bare majorities, making those things happen is not simple. Democrats would need to be unified in their support of the legislation. Yet, since there is a broad consensus supporting all those goals among both progressives and moderates in the party, they could get it all done. Yes, after years of gridlock and neglect, transforming policies and programs could finally be unleashed by Congressional action.
There’s just one glitch: the filibuster. This archaic parliamentary device that is used to gum up the works and delay legislation has been around in one form or another since the early 1800s and was employed by Southern senators as a way to block civil rights legislation in the Jim Crow era. Filibusters used to be rare, but in recent years, easy invocation of the filibuster has established a de facto requirement that 60 votes in the 100-member Senate are needed to pass any legislation that is even slightly controversial.
Democrats have 50 votes, plus the tie-breaking vote of Vice President Kamala Harris. Because the filibuster is just a creation of Senate rules, Democrats could change the rules. Unfortunately, they are stymied by a handful of Democratic senators, most prominently West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, who are devoted to the illusion of bipartisanship and the sanctity of the filibuster.
Manchin and his allies need to face reality. Thanks largely to a radicalized Republican Party, American politics has become a zero sum game, bipartisanship is dead and the filibuster is a weapon that threatens everything from people’s right to vote to the health of the economy. Democrats have the majority; they need to be able to use it to accomplish worthy goals before that majority disappears. The filibuster should be defused and the GOP obstructionists disarmed.
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