Resistance to Biden’s agenda in the Senate, explained
For parts of Biden’s agenda, such as the For The People act – a massive piece of voting rights legislation that would wipe out the voting restrictions passed by GOP state legislatures – it doesn’t look so good.
What’s the deal with the filibuster?
- Ah, the filibuster. You might have seen this word a lot recently. That’s mostly because it’s really not ever been as relevant as it is now, with a 50-50 tie in the Senate and Democrats having the majority thanks to Vice President Kamala Harris’ tie breaking vote.
- The filibuster is a Senate rule that makes it so that you don’t need a simple majority of 51 to pass a bill, but instead need at least 60 votes to move forward from the “debating” phase to an actual vote.
- Basically, this means that debate on a bill can last forever as long as there are 41 senators opposed to a bill. As a result, most bills that pass the Senate require 60 votes instead of 51.
- Now, you might be asking, “what about that stimulus package that was passed earlier this year? Didn’t all 50 Republicans oppose it?” Yes, they did. But Democrats managed to pass that bill anyway thanks to something called “reconciliation,” which meant that this type of bill couldn’t be stopped with the filibuster. If that sounds bizarre, that’s because it is – the Senate is a strange, inconsistent place.
- Strange rules aside, “reconciliation” is the exception, not the rule, and Democrats are unlikely to be able to use it with everything.
Aren’t Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema causing problems for Biden too?
- Well, sort of. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema both come from pretty moderate states (Manchin’s from West Virginia, Sinema’s from Arizona) and as a result they tend to voice moderate opinions, sometimes even voting with Republicans rather than Democrats.
- Democrats have actually been discussing ways to get rid of the filibuster, but any possible solution to getting rid of it requires 51 votes in the Senate (or 50 plus Kamala Harris’ one) and Joe Manchin, in particular, has been very public about his intentions to keep the filibuster around, going so far as to say that he can’t support “blowing up the Senate rules to expedite one party’s agenda.”
- Some Democrats in the Senate have publicly expressed frustration with Manchin, arguing that if Democrats don’t enact bold policy now, the party is going to lose seats in the upcoming 2022 midterm elections, when a third of the Senate is up for reelection.
- Others, including President Joe Biden, have taken a softer approach, saying that while they might disagree with Manchin on the issue of the filibuster, working with him to pass other pieces of legislation that have more support across the aisle is still important.
So what does this all mean for Biden’s agenda?
- For parts of Biden’s agenda, such as the For The People act – a massive piece of voting rights legislation that would wipe out the voting restrictions passed by GOP state legislatures – it doesn’t look so good.
- Manchin has already voiced his opposition to a voting rights bill and the only path forward for Democrats is to convince him that it’s worth voting for.
- For others, like Biden’s infrastructure package, talks seem a little more beneficial. Analysts still see Democrats and Republicans as miles apart, but they do seem to be getting closer and 10 Republican votes, as well as Manchin’s vote, may be within reach.
- Plus, if talks fall through on the infrastructure bill, Democrats do have the possibility of falling back on the reconciliation format (remember the stimulus package we talked about earlier?). This would allow Democrats to pass the bill with only 51 votes, but it isn’t clear yet if Manchin is on board with that kind of tactic.
- Basically, there’s a lot of work the Biden administration has to do if they want their agenda to pass through the Senate. Parts of it seem dead in the water, while other parts seem to be progressing slowly. But in a Senate so evenly divided, nothing is a given.
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