The Democratic Party is on track to take control of the U.S. Senate thanks to the projected victories of Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff in Georgia, but progressives are warning that Republicans will still have the power to thwart much of the incoming majority's agenda if Democrats don't move quickly to abolish the archaic legislative filibuster.
Eli Zupnick, spokesperson for the advocacy campaign Fix Our Senate, said in a statement Wednesday that unless Democrats act, the filibuster will remain a "weapon" that soon-to-be Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) can wield "to overturn the will of the voters and continue his obstruction."
"The majority of people across the country want a government and a Senate that works for everyone, not just the wealthy and well-connected—and we're ready to fight back."
—Eli Zupnick, Fix Our Senate
If Democrats fail to kill the filibuster, bills that can't be passed through the budget reconciliation process will require 60 votes, effectively giving Senate Republicans veto power at a time when multifaceted crises have made ambitious economic, climate, and public health legislation more necessary than ever.
"There's no longer any doubt: Senator Mitch McConnell and the GOP will never be a trustworthy partner in government, so Senate Democrats must move quickly to eliminate the filibuster," said Zupnick. "The majority of people across the country want a government and a Senate that works for everyone, not just the wealthy and well-connected—and we're ready to fight back."
The filibuster can be eliminated with a simple majority vote—commonly referred to as the "nuclear option"—but it's unclear whether Democrats currently have enough support for the move, given opposition from Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), and Jon Tester (D-Mont.). Senate Democrats would need every member of their caucus plus a tie-breaking vote from Vice President-elect Kamala Harris to eliminate the filibuster.
Warnock and Ossoff have not been clear about where they stand on the legislative filibuster. Asked in November whether he supports eliminating the barrier, Ossoff said "maybe." Warnock did not give his position on the matter when asked by the Wall Street Journal in September.
"With unified Democratic control of government, there should be no excuses for bad or inadequate policy," said Matt Bruenig, founder of the People's Policy Project, a left-wing think tank. "Don't let them spin some narrative that they can't get this or that done. They can get whatever they want done. If they don't, it's because at least some of them don't want to."
I'd like to re-emphasize this again. The filibuster does not exist if the majority does not want it to exist. This is true on day one of the new congress just as it is true on the last day of the new congress. https://t.co/f7DFfgQdu8
— Matt Bruenig (@MattBruenig) January 6, 2021
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Ezra Levin, co-executive director of advocacy group Indivisible, noted on Twitter that if Warnock and Ossoff's leads hold, Democratic senators "will represent 40 million more Americans than the 50 (likely) GOP senators."
"Mitch McConnell absolutely should not have a veto," Levin said. "Kill the filibuster."
To the dismay of progressives, President-elect Joe Biden has repeatedly insisted that he will be able to attract support from a Republican Party that is openly hostile to his proposed policy agenda, which includes a $2 trillion green energy plan and a public option for healthcare.
But Biden has also suggested he would be open to supporting elimination of the legislative filibuster, a proposal backed by a majority of Democratic voters.
"It's going to depend on how obstreperous [Republican] become," Biden told reporters in July. "But I think you're going to just have to take a look at it."
During a speech at the funeral of former Georgia congressman and civil rights hero John Lewis in July, former President Barack Obama threw his support behind the push to eliminate the filibuster, which he characterized as a "Jim Crow relic" standing in the way of robust voting rights legislation.
In remarks on the Senate floor following Obama's speech, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said the former president is "absolutely right."
"We must pass a comprehensive agenda to guarantee the rights and dignity of everyone in this country," said Sanders. "And that means, among other things, reauthorizing and expanding the Voting Rights Act, for which Congressman John Lewis put his life on the line. As President Obama said, if that requires us to eliminate the filibuster, then that is what we must do."