Republican partisanship may force new filibuster rule

The best news Americans got last week was that the Supreme Court voted 7-2 against eliminating the Affordable Care Act. We won’t have the chaos of millions losing insurance overnight. Leading Republicans must be breathing a sigh of relief. They get the credit for fighting big government while not destroying a program Americans appreciate and rely on.

The second best news is nearly as important–Joe Manchin unveiled a three-page list of what he’d support in a voter rights’ bill.  

Manchin, a Democratic senator from West Virginia, won in 2018 with 49.6% of the vote; in 2020 Trump won West Virginia by 68.6%. With such a conservative constituency, Manchin has insisted on supporting only bipartisan bills. If his side won’t compromise, it won’t get his vote.

Some Democrats are angry with Manchin, but not the ones who count. The leaders understand that without Manchin, Democrats wouldn’t be chairing Senate committees or pushing their bills to a vote. After years of Mitch McConnell seeing that there were no votes on popular issues he didn’t want, voters may at least learn where their senators stand. 

Now, Manchin’s latest move has made it clear that McConnell and followers are more interested in partisanship than good governance.  

 Last month Democrats proposed a bill to establish a bipartisan commission to investigate the Jan. 6 attack on Congress. Republicans demanded three changes in the bill. Democrats–knowing Manchin would block the vote if they disagreed–said okay. 

But the Republicans denounced the new bill–the one they’d asked for–with renewed vehemence. It didn’t get the 60 votes needed to get it on the agenda. 

Manchin continued in his determination to create bipartisan bills until last week. In announcing his own stand on voting rights, he indicated that he could not find Republicans to work on the issue–or to admit that they had.  

Manchin’s list doesn’t include some protections Idahoans already benefit from like absentee ballots on demand, same day registration, and voter-verified paper ballots. Nor does it attempt to limit rules on ballot collection or to provide for voter-financed elections. 

It does, however, include making registration available on-line, allowing alternate forms of voter ID, allowing mail-in ballots for those needing them, and having bipartisan commissions draw legislative districts. Some benefits new to Idahoans–early voting available 10 hours a day for 15 days, automatic voter registration through the DMV, and a public holiday on election day.  

Democrats eagerly accepted the cuts to their bill. Republicans led by McConnell, however, openly attacked the compromise attempt and vowed to defeat it, just as they had in May.

 The current filibuster rules give a minority that power. If one Senator objects to a bill, it takes 60 votes to bring it to a vote. The vote on the Jan. 6 investigation was 54-35, with six Republicans voting for considering the bill and 11 senators not voting. 

After this latest rebuff, Manchin appears willing to support altering the filibuster. One possibility would require 40 votes against considering a bill instead of 60 votes for. The way it now sits, the vote to consider a bill could be 59-0 and still lose.  

Another would add voter rights’ bills to the list of bills now exempt from a filibuster, i.e. budget bills and judicial appointments.  

And a third would require an old-fashioned filibuster where voting was delayed only as long as opponents were actively speaking against it. It gives the opponents the chance to get their message broadcast, but would hurt them if they were arguing against changes the public supported.   

Fifty votes can modify the rules.  We may see action soon.

 

Published by Judy Ferro

Judy Ferro is communication director for the 2C Dems and a columnist for the Idaho Press.

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