Much of President Joe Biden’s agenda faces an uphill battle due to the narrow 50-50 split in the U.S. Senate. Biden’s $1.9 trillion dollar COVID relief plan eked through Congress entirely on party lines, due to a process known as budget reconciliation, which is typically only allowed once per fiscal year. Biden has vowed to address many issues that have been unaddressed in our nation for too long, such as infrastructure, a lagging minimum wage, reforming our election systems to make it easier for Americans to vote, climate legislation and combating gun violence. Yet so many parts of his agenda won’t have a chance at becoming reality due to what’s known as the filibuster, a tool used in the Senate to stonewall legislation. A bill needs to hit a 60-vote threshold to avoid a filibuster, and considering the increasing tendency for parties to vote strictly along party lines. That means that 10 Senate Republicans voting with Democrats on any given measure are incredibly slim.
To eliminate the filibuster, we need all 50 Democrats to be on the same page; however, there is opposition on that front as well. Two of the Senate’s most moderate Democrats, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, have repeatedly said that they refuse in any circumstance to eliminate the filibuster. Their train of thought has been that if Congress can’t come to an agreement on legislation, then Congress isn’t doing its job.
Yet, the filibuster hasn’t ever encouraged compromise so their argument rings hollow. We’re in an age where our political climate is so polarized, and congressional Republicans have repeatedly shown that they’ve become the party of obstruction. It doesn’t matter if most people in the country agree on Biden’s COVID relief package or his infrastructure plan; they’ve stonewalled ad nauseam.
It remains to be seen if Manchin and Sinema will reconsider. One key part of Biden’s COVID relief bill — raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour — had to be left on the cutting room floor because of both Senators not wanting it in the final package.
Fortunately, Senate parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough (a nonpartisan civil servant who interprets the rules of the Senate) has given the OK for Senate Democrats to pass two more bills through budget reconciliation through the current fiscal year. This means that Biden’s infrastructure proposal will pass without 60 votes, assuming that all 50 Democrats are on board. This is a big victory, as there’s a lot in Biden’s infrastructure plan that is necessary and an excellent step in the right direction.
In the infrastructure plan is money allocated toward modernizing bridges, roads, public transit, and investing money into electric vehicles. It bolsters the wages of caregivers in America, a group of people that for too long have been underpaid. Per CNN, there is money allocated for expanding access to long-term care services under Medicaid as well. CNN breaks down other elements of the $2.2 trillion bill, including funding for housing, schools, manufacturing, ensuring high-speed broadband for every American, and rebuilding the nation’s water infrastructure — something incredibly vital to communities of color, in particular.
However, from there it is difficult to see how much of what congressional Democrats want to get done can become a reality, assuming the filibuster stays a part of the Senate. It’s a tool that has a problematic past, being used to block anti-lynching and Civil Rights legislation. If its use has been to block change rather than to promote compromise, it has no part in our democracy. It’s clear that it has done more harm than good, and it should be removed.
Since the 2020 presidential election, we’ve already seen some frightening proposals introduced by Republican officials. In the state of Georgia, the new law makes it illegal for people to offer food and water to people who are waiting in line to vote. They took additional measures regarding what they must print on the outside of an absentee ballot, and should they not be present, an absentee ballot will be rejected. Voting in runoff elections has been reduced from nine weeks to four weeks.
Georgia Republicans are essentially making it more difficult to vote, an obvious response to the 2020 election and the Georgia runoffs that gave wins to Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff. It’s been justified as necessary to restore “faith in the electoral process,” but officials have already said that the 2020 election was one of the most secure in recent history, and there has never been evidence of voter fraud on a wide scale, contrary to what Republican officials say.
It’s measures like Georgia’s that make something like a national reforming of the electoral system necessary. Yet, making progress is going to be an uphill battle so long as outdated systems remain in our government. Get rid of the filibuster.
The opinions expressed in this article are entirely those of the writer, and do not reflect the views of MONTROSE STAR.