When is a 35 less than 54? When Democrats in the U.S. Senate are trying to investigate the assault on American democracy on Jan. 6. You see, the U.S. Senate has an arcane rule called the filibuster that says there must be 60 votes out of 10, to close debate on a bill and actually vote on the bill.
This power is not codified in the Constitution or even in statute. It is merely a Standing Rule of the Senate and could be changed or eliminated by a simple majority of senators. This rule goes back over 200 years but wasn’t widely used until conservative Southern Democrats used it to fight against the Civil Rights Acts of 1957 and 1964.
In the 1960s, senators were at least required to stand on the Senate floor and speak constantly to delay the vote on closing debate. Strom Thurmond spent over 24 hours speaking to delay the vote on the 1957 Civil Rights Act. In 1964, he teamed up with Robert Byrd, Richard Russell, Sam Ervin and J. William Fulbright to drag out the vote on that Congress' Civil Rights Act for months. Now the mere threat of a filibuster leads the Senate Majority Leader to withhold a bill.
In past months, the filibuster was used to halt a bill to establish a bipartisan committee to investigate the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol that the Republican Party largely blames on Antifa. One would think that if a group the Republicans have been demonizing for years really attacked the Capitol they would be demanding an investigation. Perhaps they know what an investigation is likely to actually reveal.
Going forward, the filibuster is being used to try and halt bills defending and strengthening voting rights. The For The People Act would establish automatic voter registration and early voting, provide funds for election security, reform campaign funding, expand ethics requirements for federal candidates, try to limit gerrymandering by state legislatures, support statehood for Washington and reform the Federal Elections Commission.
Obviously, conservatives and conspiracy theorists in Washington oppose this bill. Congress is also debating the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, named after the late congressman from Georgia. This act would re-establish some of the requirements of the 1965 Civil Rights Act that were struck down by the Supreme Court that required states with a history of trying to limit the voting rights of minorities. Again, you can see why The Right would fight this.
So despite the Democrats being in the majority in the House and holding a slight edge in the Senate, as well as occupying the White House, the Republicans are still stymying the Biden administration's efforts to defend voting rights as well as rebuild our infrastructure and recover from the coronavirus pandemic.
Remember, the filibuster is just a rule observed by the members of the Senate that could be eliminated or altered by a vote of 51 senators. However, a conservative Southern-ish Democrat, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, has made it clear he will not vote to eliminate the filibuster. The argument against eliminating the rule is that the Republicans will also eliminate the filibuster if they regain the majority. If.
The Republicans have already shown their willingness to suspend that rule when they did just that in 2017 to approve a Supreme Court nominee. In my view, the Democrats in the Senate should at least try to eliminate the filibuster and next legislation that will benefit the American people.
The quixotic quest for bipartisanship is a rabbit hole the Republicans are leading President Biden down. They negotiate to water down a bill, still refuse to vote for it, and then blame the Democrats for passing a bill along party lines. They did it in 2010 when the Obama administration watered down the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) and then none of them voted for the bill.
They did it with the $1,400 stimulus payments we all received to help through the pandemic when absolutely no Republicans supported President Joe Biden's American Rescue Act after negotiating direct payments to Americans down from $2,000 to $1,400.
They are doing it now with the infrastructure bill and they will do it when the House committees investigate the Jan. 6 attacks and are lead by Democrats. Sens. Shaheen and Hassan should vote to eliminate the filibuster and help pass legislation that improves the lives of Americans, and then they won’t have to worry about the Republicans controlling the Senate again in our lifetimes.
Erik Corbett lives in Conway with his wife and two cats and a dog.