Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) announced her support for reforming the Senate’s filibuster rules in a press release Tuesday.
Senators should be forced to stand up and speak without ceasing if they want to block legislation from passing by a simple 50-vote majority, Cortez Masto said. Currently, bills cannot surmount a filibuster if they do not receive the 60 votes necessary to pass a cloture vote.
In her statement, the first she has made on the filibuster, Cortez Masto cites Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s determination to use the filibuster to foil President Joe Biden from enacting his agenda, just as McConnell did to President Barack Obama.
“McConnell is determined to exploit the filibuster and fight progress on the most urgent crises facing our nation and if he wants to block action on health care, climate change, and voting rights, he should have to stand on the Senate floor and be transparent about his obstruction,” Cortez Masto said in a statement.
Cortez Masto is the latest Democratic senator to come out in support of reforming the Senate’s filibuster rules. Minnesota Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith both endorsed reforming or eliminating the filibuster in the past week. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), one of the biggest Democratic proponents of the filibuster, seemed to signal his openness to changing the rules in an interview on “Fox News Sunday” by saying the procedure “really should be painful” to use.
While Senate Democrats were able to pass Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID relief package by a 50-49 vote, they could only do so through the budget reconciliation process. Reconciliation only requires a simple majority to pass, but it limits what may be considered to the realm of taxation, spending and deficit reduction. Many items on the party’s agenda are not able to fit into these constraints.
In particular, the party’s top legislative priority, the For The People Act ― a sweeping package of voting rights, campaign finance and ethics reforms ― is almost certain to face a filibuster. The bill, which the House has already passed, would nullify a host of voter restrictions now being advanced by Republicans at the state level.
“There’s no way under the sun that in 2021 that we are going to allow the filibuster to be used to deny voting rights,” House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) said in an interview with The Guardian on Sunday. “That just ain’t gonna happen. That would be catastrophic.”
Clyburn called for the Senate to adopt a filibuster carve-out for voting and civil rights legislation, in the same way that budget reconciliation provides a carve-out for federal budgetary legislation. In doing so, he pointedly called out the two most pro-filibuster senators in his party, Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), by calling his proposed voting and civil rights exception the “Manchin-Sinema rule.”
This is just one of many reforms to filibuster rules that Democrats may consider. Some lawmakers, like Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), have called for scrapping the rule entirely and letting all bills pass with a 50-vote majority. Others have called for lesser reforms, like Clyburn’s proposed carve-out or Cortez Masto’s call to return to the talking filibuster. Still other ideas abound, such as decreasing the filibuster vote threshold from 60 to 50 over time, so senators could temporarily delay a vote but not permanently prevent one.
While more than half of the Senate Democratic caucus backs some form of filibuster reform, it will take all 50 senators to sign on to any rules change. And Manchin and Sinema are not the only Democrats with reservations about ending or changing the filibuster practice. Longtime senators Dianne Feinstein (Calif.) and Pat Leahy (Vt.) have previously stated their opposition to ending the filibuster. Biden has also expressed his opposition to altering the filibuster rules.
Still, existing opposition at this point does not mean change is impossible. Many Democrats opposed ending the judicial filibuster for lower court nominees in 2013. In the end, though, they did vote to end it, including current filibuster proponents like Manchin, Feinstein and Leahy. Senate Republicans denounced the vote and then voted themselves to end the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees in 2017.
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