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end filibuster protest

Demonstrators hold 'End the Filibuster' signs while blocking an entrance before being arrested during a California Poor People's Campaign protest outside the office of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) on July 26, 2021 in Los Angeles. (Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Democrats Urged to Axe the Filibuster to Prevent 'Global Economic Crisis'

"If Republicans remain intent on using the filibuster to avoid paying our nation's debts, then Democrats should use the mandate they won from voters to fix or nix this arcane Senate rule."

Jake Johnson

With Congress barrelling toward a potentially devastating default on U.S. financial obligations, a coalition of 75 advocacy groups and labor unions on Tuesday urged Senate Democrats to axe or modify the 60-vote filibuster rule to raise the debt ceiling—and avert a "global economic crisis."

"It's unbelievable and unacceptable that a minority of U.S. senators can cause economic devastation for millions of Americans."

"Let's be clear: Preserving the Jim Crow filibuster, a racist relic of white supremacy, is not worth one single job or one dollar in anybody's bank account," Charly Carter, executive director of the Democracy Initiative, a group composed of dozens of member organizations representing 45 million people across the U.S.

Emphasizing the massive stakes of the debt ceiling fight, Carter pointed to an economist's recent estimate that a U.S. default could cost the country as many as six million jobs, send the unemployment rate soaring, and wipe out up to $15 trillion in household wealth.

While Democrats narrowly control the Senate, the 60-vote filibuster rule means the majority party needs at least 10 Republican votes to advance legislation to suspend the debt limit—something the GOP did three times, with Democratic help, during former President Donald Trump's four-year tenure.

But this time around, Republicans are vowing to filibuster any increase or suspension of the debt ceiling, which is the amount of money the federal government is legally permitted to borrow to meet its financial obligations. Under Trump, the U.S. national debt grew by roughly $8 trillion—a surge driven in large part by the GOP's tax cuts for the rich.

"If Republicans remain intent on using the filibuster to avoid paying our nation's debts, then Democrats should use the mandate they won from voters to fix or nix this arcane Senate rule," said Karen Hobert Flynn, president of Common Cause and co-chair of the Democracy Initiative's Board of Directors. "It's unbelievable and unacceptable that a minority of U.S. senators can cause economic devastation for millions of Americans—and for tens of millions more around the globe."

Eliminating the filibuster entirely or changing Senate rules to exempt debt-ceiling votes from the filibuster would require the support of all 50 Democratic senators plus a tie-breaking vote from Vice President Kamala Harris.

Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) are among the potential obstacles to such a move, given their expressed devotion to upholding the rule that Republicans have used to block voting rights legislation and other popular Democratic priorities.

On Tuesday, Manchin said Democrats "shouldn't rule out anything" when it comes to preventing a debt ceiling breach.

"We just can't let the debt ceiling lapse," Manchin said. "We just can't."

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, who has expressed support for abolishing the debt ceiling outright, warned congressional leaders last week that her agency "is likely to exhaust its extraordinary measures if Congress has not acted to raise or suspend the debt limit by October 18."

"The last thing we need is a self-inflicted global recession, driven by entrenched politicians and special interests."

"At that point, we expect Treasury would be left with very limited resources that would be depleted quickly," Yellen wrote in a letter dated September 28. "It is uncertain whether we could continue to meet all the nation’s commitments after that date."

Speaking to reporters on Monday, President Joe Biden would not guarantee that the debt ceiling will be raised or suspended in time.

"That's up to Mitch McConnell," Biden said, referring to the Republican Senate minority leader.

McConnell has repeatedly made clear that his caucus will under no circumstances vote to raise the debt limit and has said Democrats, as the ruling majority, must do so alone as part of their reconciliation package. Democrats have thus far resisted pressure to go that route, fearing that Republicans would use the process as fodder for future attack ads.

Biden, for his part, said Monday that raising the debt ceiling through reconciliation would be an "incredibly complicated, cumbersome process."

On Wednesday, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) is expected to bring to the Senate floor a standalone measure that would suspend the debt limit through the 2022 midterms.

But, with the legislative filibuster in place, there's no indication that the new bill will fare any better than Democrats' failed attempt last week to combine a debt ceiling suspension with government funding and disaster relief. Every Republican who was present voted against advancing that measure.

Tefere Gebre, executive vice president of the AFL-CIO and a co-chair of the Democracy Initiative Board of Directors, said Tuesday that with U.S. workers "still reeling from a devastating pandemic... the last thing we need is a self-inflicted global recession, driven by entrenched politicians and special interests who don't want to accept the basic principle of majority rule."

"Fixing or nixing the filibuster to address the debt ceiling is the right solution," Gebre argued. "Then we should move ahead and use majority rule in the U.S. Senate to guarantee our right to vote and protect democracy in our workplaces."

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