Kevin McCarthy Bends the Knee

Democrats: Use Reconciliation and Abolish the Filibuster

Credit: Patrick Chappatte, The Boston Globe

The Democrats have to acknowledge that the war Trump unleashed on democracy is also going on inside the Congress. Not only will the Republicans in the Senate refuse to convict Trump of leading an insurrection (only five voted to proceed to trial on the impeachment), the majority of Republicans in the House (197) denied Biden won the election immediately after the insurrection. These elected representatives have become combatants in the Trump war on democracy. They will do whatever they can to obstruct the Biden agenda and presidency. The Democrats have to respond accordingly or risk losing the war.

The war, of course, is for power. Power, in this case, means enough votes to control the Congress in 2022 and occupy the White House in 2024. The reality that this is indeed a war is best exemplified, Game of Thrones style, by Kevin McCarthy, the Republican leader in the House, “bending the knee” to Trump at Mar-a-Lago. He went from saying: Trump “bears responsibility” for the violence at the Capitol a week after the insurrection to, after taking the temperature of the Republican base, “kneeling” to Trump, sending a signal to fight for Trumpism to his House caucus.

While President Biden’s attempt at securing bipartisan support is laudable, it cannot languish. If Republicans refuse to support his $1.9 trillion COVID stimulus, the Democrats should pass it by reconciliation. The pandemic has decimated both our economy and our populace. Americans need relief. There will plenty of time for fiscal austerity once the virus is defeated.

“Budget reconciliation” is a legislative process that can pass bills by a simple majority and avoid the filibuster, which requires 60 votes. It can only be used for budgetary legislation. This is something the Republicans have not hesitated to do. In 2017 they approved reconciliation measures to cut taxes, mostly for the wealthy and corporations, and to eliminate the penalty for not having health insurance. They did this unapologetically. They exercised their power. Democrats should now do the same for COVID relief along with raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

It’s not just that these are the right things to do. They send a signal to voters, desperately looking for strong leadership, that a Democratic majority is good for the country. Most importantly, this would acknowledge that the Democrats understand they are at war with Republicans who have “bent the knee” to Donald Trump and his base.

The Democrats should also use their majority to abolish the filibuster.

The filibuster is a procedural mechanism that allows the minority party to block the majority’s legislative agenda from advancing in the Senate. When used, it requires 60 votes, not 51, to pass legislation. It is not part of the Constitution. It was created to empower the minority to block the majority’s agenda. For most of the Senate’s history, legislation was passed by simple majority votes. In the latter half of the 20th century, however, that changed.

The filibuster began to be used by Republicans as a regular tool to block such things as: civil rights legislation, gun violence legislation, and the Dream Act, which would have protected the rights of immigrant children raised in the United States from deportation. Democracy is defined as majority rule. The filibuster is undemocratic and should be abolished. This is especially so in the context of the ongoing war Republican legislators will wage on Biden’s attempts to repair Trump’s damage to our society.

It would not take 60 votes to abolish the filibuster; a simple majority vote in the Senate would do it. That vote could be held at any time. At present there are two Democratic senators, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, who oppose eliminating it. While I doubt the Democrats could pick up two Republicans who would vote to abolish it, they can and should engage in a public relations campaign explaining why the filibuster should be abolished, and target such at both West Virginia and Arizona.

Elections have consequences. One should be that that the agendas of the winning party can be enacted by a majority vote. Isn’t that what democracy is all about?


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