Democratic senators are seeking creative ways to ram through their legislation now that it has become apparent they will not succeed in eliminating the filibuster. Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) indicated they would not support the removal of the senatorial tradition. Still, Manchin says he may be open to changing how the filibuster is conducted. If this change is made, not only could it mean the Democrats will succeed in implementing their agenda, but it could constitute a pyrrhic victory similar to what happened when former Sen. Harry Reid changed the voting rules.
Democrats Eye ‘Talking Filibuster’
NBC News reported that Manchin “opened the door this week to making it more ‘painful’ to block legislation” as Democrats look for ways to push their progressive agenda:
“It was a telling shift for Manchin, the most outspoken Democratic supporter of the filibuster — an apparent sign of party consensus that the rule can be softened, if not abolished. Some progressives say his idea would open the door to passing ambitious bills to bolster voting rights and gun control, which cleared the House and are headed for a fatal crash with the Senate’s 60-vote threshold.”
Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) expressed optimism about the proposal, calling it “very significant.” He said: “There’s been a tremendous sea change in the Democratic caucus, saying, ‘We were elected to solve problems, not to apologize because [Senate Republican leader Mitch] McConnell stopped us.’ That excuse will not fly, nor should it.”
The senator indicated that he is currently speaking with his colleagues about a “talking filibuster,” which is a measure backed by Manchin. “The idea is to test obstructing senators by forcing them to talk in order to halt legislation – the West Virginian alluded to the actor Jimmy Stewart in ‘Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,'” according to NBC.
The rationale behind this idea is that it would eliminate the filibuster’s current form while allowing the minority party to slow down or halt the passage of bills. This could make it easier for the Democrats to ram through their preferred legislation while they have control of both chambers of Congress. However, as he has done in the past, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) warned Democrats that they would not be so thrilled about this political maneuver when it is used against them, if and when both chambers flip.
“Majorities come, and majorities go. But the essence of the Senate is the filibuster on the legislative calendar.” McConnell told reporters. “Change that, and you change the Senate — and America — forever. The status quo on this issue is exactly where we ought to be.”
Both Sinema and Manchin were vocal in their opposition to ending the filibuster. But they did indicate a willingness to consider altering it.
What Would A Talking Filibuster Look Like?
A talking filibuster would still give the minority party a voice when debating legislation but would severely weaken its ability to stop or stall the passage of a particular proposal. Under the current system, the majority must get 60 votes to invoke cloture, which means debate on the measure would end. This can be quite difficult, especially on more contentious issues.
But under a talking filibuster system, it would be up to the minority senators to continue articulating their objection in order to block a vote. In this scenario, the majority party may lose its resolve and pull the bill, or the number of senators objecting to the proposal would drop under 41 and allow the majority to push forward with a three-fifths vote.
Will Democrats Take the Risk?
The Democrats have a rather aggressive agenda under President Joe Biden. They seek to push policies such as $15 minimum wage, boost Obamacare, impose a highly restrictive gun control plan, deal with climate change, and other such measures.
At this point, it seems that despite McConnell’s warning, Democrats are willing to bite the bullet if it means they can shove their progressive policies through with less opposition. None of these lawmakers seem to be concerned with learning their lesson from past decisions that put Republicans in a position to get three Supreme Court Justices appointed to the court under President Trump.
Of course, given the fact that the GOP tends not to play as ruthlessly as its opponents, perhaps Democrats figure they will not live to regret this move. But the names Kavanaugh, Coney Barrett, and Gorsuch should give them pause.
Read more from Jeff Charles.