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Senators Joe Manchin, Kyrsten Sinema, and their party fellows in the senate are facing a dilemma. Should they blow up the legislative filibuster to pass their inaptly named Voting Rights Bill, or preserve it to defend against Republicans doing the same when they have a majority?
We have seen this play out before. In 2013, then Senate majority leader, the recently deceased, Harry Reid went nuclear to remove the 67 vote threshold for all presidential nominees except Supreme Court Justices. Four years later, and right on cue Senator Mitch McConnell in the same role applied the same rule to just those Justices. President Donald Trump would appoint three of them with no Democrat votes, a generation victory for conservatives.
It’s worth wondering just what kind of Pandora’s Box the Democrats are toying with today as they consider obliterating the filibuster for good and always. It seems as certain as the summer sun that the GOP will take both houses of congress in this year’s midterm election. Free from the filibuster, Republicans will pounce on the precedent which may well again become the legislative version of stepping on a rake for Democrats.
The result of this will be President Biden becoming the vetoer-in-chief. Instead of handing out pens at ceremonial bill signings, a lonely Biden will scratch his scrawl on documents of obstruction. If he seems ineffective now, just wait until his entire reason for being is to act as a white haired roadblock to the business of the nation.
And then there is 2024 to consider. A Republican president with a congress of his own party could check off their wish list of legislation like a rich kid on Christmas morning. How about a national ban on abortion after 10 weeks? Or dismantling the Department of Education? Maybe a capital gains tax rate lower than James Earl Jones’ voice? You get the picture.
Ten years ago it must have been credibly argued that ending the filibuster inherently benefited Democrats who favor broad use of federal power. But the new right, now in ascendancy, no longer views limited federal power as its primary concern. On issues from big tech, to crime, to religious freedom, today’s Republicans have plenty to legislate and given the chance they will.
It’s one thing to be careful what you wish for. It is another altogether to knowingly walk into a disaster for the sake of one bill that might not even stand the test of time and the courts.
Manchin knows this, he has pointed out there is no such thing as an exception, or carve out to the filibuster, saying last week, “Any time there’s a carve out, you eat the whole turkey, there’s nothing left.” And of course he is right. McConnell and the GOP will not be shy, their priorities will be just as much of a necessity, or emergency, or whatever as Democrats claim the phantom assault on voting rights in Georgia and Texas are.
This will inevitably lead to a see-saw effect on the nation’s laws. Every few years massive changes in federal legislation will be a burden on every American citizen and business trying to keep up with the free flying changes as they go by.
The good news is that Biden is so deeply unpopular just at the moment that he has absolutely no power to cajole Manchin or Sinema into so much as buying a cheeseburger, much less changing senate rules. Biden should be smart enough to know that this is actually a blessing for him. The far left wing of his party, who, in the person of Stacey Abrams won’t even deign to appear on stage with him, are pulling his puppet strings, they want to lead him to commit political suicide.
The ball is in the Democrats’ court on the filibuster. But maybe, just maybe, Republicans should be telling them to go for it. For the price of one voting bill, they could gain a host of legislation in the years to come. As Harry Reid found out, what goes around really does come around twice as hard. And for the GOP, that could very well be quite a good thing.