I'm happy that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris were inaugurated three days ago. I'm pleased that Biden is signing a bunch of executive orders that undo the crap Trump inflicted on our nation.
But a big loud flashing warning signal is going off in my brain:
"Alert! Alert! Code Red! If the Democrats don't do away with the Senate filibuster, not only will Biden's presidency be severely hobbled, the foundation of our democracy will crumble into ruins."
In no way is this an original idea.
Progressive political analysts who are much more knowledgeable than I am about goings-on in Congress have clued me in to the urgent need to ditch the filibuster -- that outmoded rule requiring 60 votes in the 100 person Senate to pass legislation.
Not to confirm judges, though. Senate Republicans took advantage of that giant loophole to ram through the confirmation of Supreme Court and other federal judges during Trump's four years.
Yet now that Democrats narrowly control the Senate, with Vice-President Harris breaking ties in the current 50-50 makeup of that body, Republicans are crying that, boo-hoo, eliminating the filibuster would be too disruptive, too revolutionary, too bold.
They don't mention that our Founding Fathers didn't envision the filibuster. They don't mention that for many years the filibuster was used to support Jim Crow laws in southern states that kept Blacks downtrodden. They don't mention that it is undemocratic to allow a minority to thwart the will of a majority.
Right now red states are busily plotting to change their election laws to make it much more difficult for Democrats to win elections. They want to restrict mail-in and absentee voting, solidlfy gerrymandering, require burdensome IDs to vote, and other nasty measures.
There's a Voting Rights Act ready to go that would go a long way toward protecting our democracy. Here's key provisions of what's being called the For The People Act.
* Automatic voter registration at an array of state agencies
* Same-day voter registration
* Online voter registration
* Allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to pre-register so they’ll be on the rolls when they turn 18
* Allowing state colleges and universities to serve as registration agencies
* Banning states from purging eligible voters’ registration simply for infrequent voting
* Two weeks of in-person early voting, including availability on Sundays and outside of normal business hours
* Standardized hours within states for opening and closing polling places on Election Day, with exceptions to let cities set longer hours in municipal races
* Prepaid postage on mail ballots
* Allowing voters to turn in their mail ballot in person if they choose
* Requiring states to establish nonpartisan redistricting commissions for congressional redistricting
* Ending prison gerrymandering by counting prisoners at their last address (rather than where they’re incarcerated) for the purposes of redistricting
* Ending felony disenfranchisement for those on parole, probation, or post-sentence, and requiring such citizens to be supplied with registration forms and informed their voting rights have been restored
* Expressing support for D.C. statehood (which is the subject of a separate bill)
* Public financing for House campaigns in the form of matching small donations at a six-for-one rate
* Expanded campaign finance disclosure requirements to mitigate Citizens United
* Banning corporations from spending on campaign purposes unless the corporation has established a process for determining the political will of its shareholders
* Making it a crime to mislead voters with the intention of preventing them from voting
But the chance of this bill getting 60 votes in the Senate is essentially zero. As is the chance of the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico achieving statehood, or Biden's $1.9 trillion Covid relief package becoming law, or a host of other laws being passed that would improve the lives of Americans immensely.
All because of the filibuster. Well, not quite "all," because Senate Democrats still would need to find 50 votes. But 50 votes are a lot easier to come by than 60 votes.
So if every Senate Democrat were to get on board with abolishing the filibuster, that would open the door to tremendous legislative accomplishments in the next two years.
Ezra Klein makes a great case for doing away with the filibuster in his New York Times opinion piece, "Democrats, Here's How to Lose in 2022. And Deserve It." It's well worth a read. Here's some excerpts.
President Biden takes office with a ticking clock. The Democrats’ margin in the House and Senate couldn’t be thinner, and midterms typically raze the governing party. That gives Democrats two years to govern. Two years to prove that the American political system can work. Two years to show Trumpism was an experiment that need not be repeated.
This is the responsibility the Democratic majority must bear: If they fail or falter, they will open the door for Trumpism or something like it to return, and there is every reason to believe it will be far worse next time. To stop it, Democrats need to reimagine their role. They cannot merely defend the political system. They must rebuild it.
...The “For the People Act,” which House Democrats passed in 2019 and Senate Democrats have said will be their first bill in the new session, would do more to protect and expand the right to vote than any legislation passed since the Great Society, and it would go a long way toward building a fairer and more transparent campaign financing system.
In June, House Democrats passed a bill to grant statehood to Washington, D.C., which would end one of the most appalling cases of systematic disenfranchisement in the country.
But none of these bills will pass a Senate in which the filibuster forces 60-vote supermajorities on routine legislation. And that clarifies the real question Democrats face.
They have plenty of ideas that could improve people’s lives and strengthen democracy. But they have, repeatedly, proved themselves more committed to preserving the status quo of the political system than fulfilling their promises to voters.
They have preferred the false peace of decorum to the true progress of democracy. If they choose that path again, they will lose their majority in 2022, and they will deserve it.