The Struggle for the Soul of America: Democrats’ Reconciliation Bill Must Include Voting Rights

Time is running out for the Democrats to pass President Biden’s chief legislative program, Build Back Better (BBB). While they have been working on it for months, progressive and moderate Dems can’t seem to reach a compromise that both sides can live with. Yet, they all know that if they fail to pass legislation that provides some significant benefits to the American people, their prospects in next year’s election are dismal.

Here’s a possible solution. Instead of trying to pass the whole enchilada all at once, divide the $3.5 trillion social services and tax reform bill in two:

  1. One bill would contain all the provisions from the original proposal that both sides can agree to support.
  2. The second bill would include those areas on which they cannot currently find common ground and would not be considered until after the 2022 election.

The one thing that must be included in the first bill is the 2021 Freedom to Vote Act.[1] Standing alone, voting rights bills have been blocked by Republican filibusters three times this year, most recently this week.[2] However, by inserting it in their first BBB reconciliation package, Democrats would prevent a Republicans filibuster since the reconciliation process only requires a simple majority.

For the Act to qualify for reconciliation, Democrats must also include a specific funding amount, e.g., $2 billion, to assist the states in their implementation of the voting rights provisions.[3] Adding this relatively small amount to the reconciliation bill would be much easier than changing the filibuster rule since all 50 Senate Democrats support the Freedom to Vote Act,[4] which is not the case with the latter approach.

Securing Americans’ voting rights would be a major achievement for Biden and his party. It would also give the Democrats a much greater chance of maintaining control of Congress in the 2022 election. They will have demonstrated that their party can deliver for the American people having passed the first half of Biden’s BBB program, voting rights and the $1.2 trillion, bipartisan infrastructure bill.

Plus, the Democrats would have the promise of the second half of Biden’s BBB agenda – including combating climate change and lowering drug prices — which they would introduce in 2023 after next year’s election. This should energize the Democratic base to get out the vote and increase the Dems majority in Congress. With larger majorities in each house, the Democrats would then most likely be able to pass the disputed portions of the BBB program.

Clearly, progressives would be taking a chance with this compromise strategy. But the reality is that the BBB plan that finally does pass this year will be significantly reduced in size anyway and will not include some of the progressive provisions that were in the original proposal. Given the strong opposition of Sens. Manchin and Sinema to these provisions, there is really nothing they can do about that. Splitting the bill into two and including the Right to Vote Act in this year’s portion is the best that the Democrats can hope for.

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 breakingbigmoneysgrip@gmail.com.

Subscribe to this blog at https://breakingbigmoneysgrip.com/my-blog-3/. Join the movement to revive our democracy. Together we can save the soul of America.


[1] https://www.brennancenter.org/our-work/research-reports/breaking-down-freedom-vote-act

[2] https://www.nytimes.com/2021/10/20/us/senate-voting-rights-filibuster.html

[3] https://budget.house.gov/publications/fact-sheet/budget-reconciliation-basics

[4] https://www.democracydocket.com/alerts/senate-republicans-block-freedom-to-vote-act-from-floor-debate/

The Struggle for the Soul of America: The Afghan Tragedy

I travelled overland through Afghanistan on my way to India in the fall of 1972. It was before the failed Russian invasion and well before the American incursion. Back then, the country was at peace.

What struck me most about Afghanistan was its rugged independence. I entered the country from its western neighbor, Iran. Having been ruled by the U.S. supported Shah for many years, Iran clearly exhibited a strong American influence. To the east of Afghanistan stood Pakistan, which had been part of the British Empire for a long time.

Surrounded by all this western persuasion, Afghanistan proudly maintained its unique individuality. In fact, it was more like a gathering of tribal fiefdoms than a unified country. To believe that a foreign power like the United States could march in and transform Afghanistan into a western styled democracy was a fool’s errand.

Tragically, it took 20 years for the United States to understand that it could not determine the outcome of Afghanistan’s civil war. During that time we spent nearly $1 trillion in this futile attempt.[1] Related costs, e.g., interest on the war debt and support for injured military, will continue to mount for years to come. In addition, more than six thousand Americans lost their lives there. Well over a hundred thousand Afghanis were killed as well.[2]

The United States has little to show for this massive endeavor. Yes, we took out Osama Ben Laden. But that was in Pakistan over ten years ago.[3] In truth, our country just postponed the inevitable, the Taliban control of Afghanistan.

Probably the greatest tragedy has yet to come. The Taliban treat Afghani women and girls savagely. With its takeover of the country, women will be beaten, even executed, for the smallest violations of the Taliban’s strict moral code.[4]

Afghanistan is yet another example of grossly incompetent American foreign policy. Our country has a counterproductive habit of backing unpopular, corrupt governments that are eventually overthrown by native insurgents who then install anti-American, militant regimes. A prime example is the Shah of Iran, who was deposed by the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, bringing about the Islamic revolution in 1979.[5] The U.S. involvement in Chile, Cuba and Vietnam also come to mind.

But the worst case of disastrous American foreign policy, of course, is China. Chiang Kai-Shek and the Kuomintang may have been the most corrupt of all U.S. allies.[6] In 1949, his American backed government was toppled by Mao Zedong and the communist revolution. More than seventy years later, the United States is still coping with the consequences of that misguided policy blunder.

Now, with this latest foreign policy catastrophe, we can only hope that our country will learn a strategic lesson about involving itself in another nation’s internal affairs. While we may mean well, the United States does not have the omniscient wisdom and wherewithal to do what’s right for other countries. We have a nearly impossible time doing the right thing for our own people.

While we cannot and should not completely withdraw from the world stage, our nation must step back and fully re-examine how to move forward in the international arena in the best interests of justice and world peace.

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 breakingbigmoneysgrip@gmail.com.

Subscribe to this blog at https://breakingbigmoneysgrip.com/my-blog-3/. Join the movement to revive our democracy. Together we can save the soul of America.


[1] https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2021/08/14/statement-by-president-joe-biden-on-afghanistan/

[2] https://www.usnews.com/news/politics/articles/2021-08-14/costs-of-the-afghanistan-war-in-lives-and-dollars

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Killing_of_Osama_bin_Laden#:~:text=Osama%20bin%20Laden%2C%20the%20founder,DEVGRU%20or%20SEAL%20Team%20Six

[4] https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2021/08/the-talibans-return-is-awful-for-women-in-afghanistan/619765/

[5] https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/shah-flees-iran

[6] https://www.salon.com/2014/03/08/35_countries_the_u_s_has_backed_international_crime_partner/