Thanks to the Turtle, the United States Senate was a moribund body between 2015-2021. They cut taxes and tried to gut the ACA, but otherwise little of note was accomplished. That began to change when Democrats won a narrow majority and passed the American Rescue Plan via the reconciliation process. That was a surprisingly fast process, but the senate is back to its slow, slow ways.
I’ve criticized Bernie Sanders in this space before. It’s time to praise him. In his new role as Budget Committee chair, he did a masterful job of steering the human infrastructure bill through his committee. Senator Sanders didn’t get everything he wanted BUT the scaled back bill pleased committee progressives and moderates alike. It’s unclear what the Emperor of the Senate, Joe Manchin, thinks. The 50-50 split gives this guy too much power but that’s democracy in action.
Mercifully, the above bill can be passed via reconciliation, but that’s the majority’s last bite at that apple for now. Everything else is subject to the McConnell era filibuster and he’s vowed to obstruct, obstruct, obstruct. It’s uncertain if the bipartisan infrastructure bill will get the necessary ten Republicans vote. I’m expecting the rug to be pulled out from under it, but Democrats will get points from the broader public for the effort. Independents love bipartisanship.
Republican senators dislike both voting rights bills that have been proposed by Democrats. They’re expected to vote in a solid bloc against both measures. Times have changed. The last time the Voting Rights Act was renewed in 2006 the senate vote was unanimous. That’s right, Mitch McConnell voted for the VRA before it was gutted by Chief Justice Roberts.
All roads in 2021 lead to the filibuster. The amateur senators were up in the arms that President Biden didn’t mention it in his stirring speech about voting rights. They’re demanding that he demand its abolition as a sign of his sincerity. I, too, support abolition BUT it would have been an empty gesture for the president to do so. The votes aren’t there, and the situation calls for our old friend nuance.
The best we can hope for is filibuster reform. A carve-out for voting rights seems to have 48 votes as of this writing: we all know who the two holdouts are.
TPM has been keeping track of where each Democratic senator stands on the filibuster. Using the TPM filibuster tracker’s terminology, here’s how it broke down as of two weeks ago:
The Status Quo Sect: 2
The Reformers: 24
The Nukers: 14
The Nuke-Curious: 10
TPM’s head count shows that there are only 14 firm votes to nuke the filibuster with a ceiling of 24. That’s substantial progress from past years. Senators such as Dianne Feinstein, Jon Tester, and Angus King have moved into the reform column this year. Hell, current nuker Bernie Sanders was a reformer until recently.
The amateur senators want brave speeches and absolutist stands from Joe Biden. I think a six-term former senator knows more about the upper chamber than the Twitteratti. What’s called for right now is cunning and guile.
Biden and one of his closest allies, House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, are playing the inside-outside game on voting rights. Biden is privately lobbying senators while Clyburn is speaking out publicly. This is the way politics is supposed to work.
I’m cautiously optimistic about things working out in the senate. I realize, however, that things could fall apart. Major legislation often appears to be doomed before it passes. That was the case with the ACA, among others. Stay tuned.
Whatever happens, it won’t happen overnight. Repeat after me: the senate is slow.
The last word goes to goes to Foghat: