2021 is shaping up to be the most critical year for American democracy since the Civil War. The January 6th attack on the Capitol foreshadowed a political period of extreme uncertainty and potential disaster.
At the same time, the first couple of months of 2021 have given Americans substantial promise that the country will soon overcome the COVID pandemic and head toward a more normal way of life. Still, major obstacles may impede progress and ultimately destroy any chance for a brighter future in the near term.
To combat our nation’s health and political emergencies, the House of Representatives has passed and sent to the Senate the 2021 COVID relief bill and HR 1, the For the People Act. What is most striking about both of these bills is their popularity among Republicans throughout the country versus the lack of Republican support in Congress:
- 59% of GOP voters favor the pandemic relief act, while 77% of all voters do
- 56% of GOP voters support H.R. 1, the For the People Act, while 67% of all voters do
Yet not one Republican senator or representative favors either bill. With such bipartisan support across the nation, how can this be?
Despite their constituents’ support for relief and reform, Senate Republicans will have none of it. Rather, they would allow millions of Americans, including a great many of their own supporters, to continue struggling. Plus, GOP senators are fighting to block HR 1 and deny the right to vote to as many Americans as possible in order to grab power and maintain minority rule.
Enacting HR 1 into law this year is critical to protecting our democracy. It will restore and expand voting rights, protect the ballot, end gerrymandering and provide election security, among other important provisions.
While Congressional Republicans take issue with some elements of these bills, their overriding concern appears to be political. Though the Democrats control both houses of Congress and the White House, Republicans refuse to concede any authority to the majority party.
Congressional Republicans argue that the $1.9 trillion COVID bill is much larger than what is needed to assist millions of suffering coronavirus victim, health workers, schools, the unemployed, underfunded cities and others. Yet, those same Republicans had no hesitancy in 2017 in passing a huge tax cut creating a $1.5 trillion budget deficit that overwhelming benefited their wealthy donors, multi-national corporations and others who were hardly suffering and really didn’t need such largesse.
Democrats, on the other hand, realize that past relief efforts like the 2009 Recovery Act may have fallen short. They do not want to risk making the same mistake again, especially during the limited time they have the power to help everyday Americans, as well as fix our broken political system.
Senate Democrats must stick together. They must beat back Republican obstruction. As I noted in my February 26th blog, The Critical Fight to Save Our Democracy, “a simple majority of the Senate could ‘carve out’ election-reform legislation from the filibuster. That is the Democrats could vote to exempt any bill that expands voting rights from being subject to a filibuster…”
We must insist that Senate Democrats do just that in order to save our democracy from being subverted by Republican voter suppression, gerrymandering and the like. Write, call and/or email your senators and urge them to protect our democratic rights. If not now, when?
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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