Senate Democrats appear to be damned if they do and damned if they don’t. On the one hand, Mitch McConnell and his Republican colleagues are threatening to utilize the filibuster to block President Biden’s legislative agenda on democratic reform, economic recovery, infrastructure, the environment, social justice and other priorities. If the Democrats don’t curtail or eliminate the filibuster, they will fail to deliver on their campaign promises and surely be defeated at the polls in 2022.
On the other hand, if Senate Democrats do move to override the filibuster in order to pass S. 1, the For the People Act, and other critical initiatives, Sen. McConnell warns he’ll use “procedural moves to grind the chamber to a halt and make current gridlock look like ‘child’s play.’” In which case, the Democrats will also likely fail to deliver concrete results and lose in the 2022 elections.
So, what are Democrats to do? Moderate Democrats, like Biden and Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, are calling for returning to the old “talking filibuster” where senators actually had to stay on the floor and continuously talk to maintain a filibuster. After many hours, the theory goes, the filibustering senators will tire and give up, at which point the proposed legislation would only need a simple majority to pass. Of course, there is no guarantee of their relenting. And the proponents of the measure may be the ones who give up first and withdraw their bill from consideration.
Other Democrats, including moderates like Sen. Amy Klobuchar, are now convinced that eliminating the filibuster is the only solution. She explained that “the likely demise in the Senate of a House voting rights bill had flipped her…to a ‘yes.’”
Trying to find some middle ground, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) is calling for an exception to the filibuster where any bill expanding voting matters would not be subject to the 60-vote cloture requirement. But Sens. Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) have not agreed to that. How can any Democrat believe that the right of 50 Republican senators to filibuster is more sacred than the right of all Americans to vote? What are they thinking?
Meanwhile, the clock is ticking. If the Democrats cannot agree on a way around the filibuster, S. 1 and the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act will not pass the Senate. Red states will then have a field day approving voter suppression laws and millions of voters, mostly minorities and youth, will lose the ability to cast their ballots in 2022. The obstructionist Republicans will again control the government. And, the American people’s voting rights and our democracy will be badly wounded, if not outright destroyed.
Earlier this week, Repair Our Democracy issued the following statement:
“Our democracy is under attack, and the For the People Act offers popular, common-sense solutions that will stop the GOP’s assault on voting rights, repair our broken campaign finance system, and root out the corruption that plagues our politics. "With Democratic control of the White House and Congress, and with support from a vast majority of the American people, it’s time for Senate Democrats to go big on democracy reform. The Senate must move expeditiously to pass this sweeping legislation in its entirety—without delay, without breaking it up, and without the filibuster. "Recent polling from Global Strategy Group and ALG Research shows that 83 percent of voters support the For the People Act—including 96 percent of Democrats, 74 percent of Republicans, and 73 percent of Independents.”
As concerned citizens, we must all advocate for and put maximum pressure on all Democratic senators to find a way out of this potential disaster. The filibuster does not serve we, the people. Call, email or write your senators today and demand that they come together, override the filibuster and save our democracy.
Bruce Berlin, J.D.
A retired, public sector ethics attorney, Berlin is the author of Breaking Big Money’s Grip on America (See breakingbigmoneysgrip.com.), the founder of New Mexicans for Money Out of Politics, a former U.S. Institute of Peace fellow, and the founder and former executive director of The Trinity Forum for International Security and Conflict Resolution. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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