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Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) speaks during a news conference on Tuesday, March 16, 2021. (Photo: Samuel Corum-Pool/Getty Images)

'What Are They Waiting For?' With Voting Rights Under Threat, Dems Pressured to Nuke Filibuster Now

"Democrats have a mandate from voters to move forward on their own... Delay carries enormous risk, just as it did in 2009."

Jake Johnson

With dozens of Republican-authored voter suppression measures advancing through state legislatures across the country, progressive advocacy groups are imploring Democratic lawmakers to stop dragging their feet and immediately abolish the Senate rule that is obstructing an ambitious plan to shield the franchise from the GOP's onslaught.

"Starting right now, Democrats have a once in a generation opportunity to go big and renew faith in the government’s ability to get real things done. What are they waiting for?"
—Progressive coalition

In a joint statement late Wednesday, the Battle Born Collective, Justice Democrats, the Sunrise Movement, and Data for Progress argued that further delaying the fight over the archaic legislative filibuster—which effectively requires 60 votes for most legislation to pass the Senate—risks relegating voting rights and other key priorities "to second-class status."

"Democrats have a mandate from voters to move forward on their own. There's no reason to delay abolishing the Senate filibuster," the groups said. "Delay carries enormous risk, just as it did in 2009."

The coalition's warning came as President Joe Biden unveiled the first portion of an infrastructure package that congressional Democrats are preparing to push through the filibuster-proof budget reconciliation process, given the GOP's vocal opposition to the proposal.

But the progressive groups said that evading the filibuster issue yet again by using the restrictive reconciliation process—which allows legislation to pass with a simple majority—"produces the risk that many elements of the American Jobs Plan will be stripped out by the Senate parliamentarian for not complying with arcane budgetary rules."

The reconciliation strategy also pushes off a long-overdue filibuster confrontation until the nascent infrastructure package makes its way through Congress and receives a final vote, which could be more than three months away.

Because the For the People Act—Democrats' sweeping voting rights expansion bill—would not meet current budget reconciliation requirements, the measure would have to be passed through regular order, an impossible task with the 60-vote filibuster in place and Senate Republicans unified in their opposition to the popular legislation.

That's why the progressive coalition is urging Senate Democrats to eliminate—or, at the very least, dramatically weaken—the filibuster before pressing ahead with infrastructure legislation. A growing number of Democrats have expressed support for reforming the filibuster in recent weeks, including Biden and conservative Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.).

"Moving forward with filibuster reform now will allow the [infrastructure] proposal to pass through regular order, while also clearing the way for the passage of other critical policies like the For the People Act," the groups note.

Changing or abolishing the filibuster would require the support of the entire Senate Democratic caucus plus a tie-breaking vote from Vice President Kamala Harris.

According to the latest tally from the Brennan Center for Justice, 361 bills with voter-suppression provisions have been introduced in 47 states and at least five have been signed into law, including Georgia's draconian new restrictions.

The Brennan Center argued in an analysis last month that, if passed, the For the People Act would "thwart virtually every single one" of the GOP-led voter suppression efforts at the state level. Manchin is the only Democratic senator who is not listed as a co-sponsor of the legislation.

"The landmark legislation would create a national baseline for voting access that every American can rely on," the Brennan Center said, "and it would foil state efforts to manipulate voting rules to exclude eligible voters or create discriminatory outcomes."

But the progressive coalition cautioned Wednesday that if Senate Democrats "delay filibuster reform—and therefore any action on voting rights—until the fall or winter... it will be too late to implement many vital democracy reforms in time to combat gerrymandering or the massive wave of voter suppression Republicans are planning for the 2022 midterms."

"It's clear Republicans in Congress don't want to help pass policies that improve people's lives, rebuild our nation's crumbling infrastructure, and meet the scale of the crises we face," the groups said. "Starting right now, Democrats have a once in a generation opportunity to go big and renew faith in the government’s ability to get real things done. What are they waiting for?"

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