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Protesters sound off against Manching filibuster reform opposition.

Activists rally against Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V), calling on them to eliminate the legislative filibuster and pass the For the People Act outside the Supreme Court on June 23, 2021 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

After Senate Proves 'Exceptions to Filibuster ARE Possible,' Progressives Say: Now Do All the Good Stuff

"We still need 60 votes to raise the minimum wage, end voter suppression, and save our democracy?" asked one critic. "Kinda like the filibuster is just there to protect the wealthy and powerful."

Kenny Stancil

After the U.S. Senate demonstrated this week that the filibuster can be ignored at-will—by establishing a process to raise the nation's debt ceiling with a simple majority vote—progressives demanded that Democrats fully repeal the chamber's anti-democratic 60-vote rule and pass legislation to protect voting rights and improve working peoples' lives.

"If we can abolish the filibuster to raise the debt ceiling, we can abolish the filibuster to protect voting rights."

"The Senate proved that exceptions to the filibuster ARE possible," Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) said Thursday night after 14 Republicans—led by a filibuster fanatic in Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)—joined all 50 Democrats to approve a bill that allows the nation's debt ceiling to be raised with a simple majority vote, averting a default that would trigger another devastating round of austerity.

"That's great news—now do the same for voting rights, reproductive freedom, workers' rights, and much more," added Jayapal, chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

Thursday night's "exception to the filibuster to advance debt ceiling legislation," said Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.), "is proof that we can pass voting rights legislation this Congress—regardless of the filibuster."

That sentiment was echoed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who said that "it's possible to create exceptions to the filibuster and move forward when it's important. We did it this time, let's do it again."

Earlier this week, when reports of the bipartisan debt ceiling deal first came to light, Sean Eldridge, president and founder of the progressive advocacy group Stand Up America, said in a statement that McConnell's "convoluted legislative maneuver... highlights the Senate's growing dysfunction" and "makes clear the need to reform the filibuster to make the Senate work for the American people."

"If our senators are willing to suspend the filibuster to protect our economy," he added, "they should be willing to suspend it to protect our democracy and our freedom to vote."

Senate Democrats—with the support of all 50 members of the caucus plus a tie-breaking vote cast by Vice President Kamala Harris—can reform or nix the filibuster indefinitely, which would enable them to circumvent GOP obstructionism and swiftly enact the legislative agenda that a majority of U.S. voters elected them to implement.

However, some right-wing Democratic senators, including Joe Manchin (W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.), remain opposed to abolishing the filibuster and to carving out exceptions to the 60-vote threshold—on issues other than lifting the nation's borrowing cap.

Their refusal persists even as scholars and activists warn that federal legislation is necessary to neutralize the ongoing right-wing assaults on democracy and abortion, which are being carried out by state-level Republicans across the nation.

Senate Republicans have deployed the filibuster four times this year to prevent voting rights legislation from reaching President Joe Biden's desk. After blocking the sweeping For the People Act in June and August, they also filibustered the Freedom to Vote Act—a compromise bill backed by Manchin—in October, and the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act two weeks later.

Meanwhile, Republican lawmakers have passed 33 voter suppression laws in 19 states this year and are currently engaged in a relentless gerrymandering spree—the combination of which threatens to disenfranchise millions and cement right-wing minority rule amid worsening crises of inequality and climate change.

"Senate Democrats must end the filibuster to pass the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act," Eldridge said earlier this week. "Our democracy depends on it."

Repealing the filibuster would also allow Democrats to codify reproductive rights, which are currently under attack nationwide—often with the tacit support of the U.S. Supreme Court's far-right justices, as on Friday when five of them voted to dismiss the Biden administration's appeal challenging Texas' abortion ban.

House Democrats approved the Women's Health Protection Act in September, but until Senate Democrats jettison the chamber's anti-democratic rule requiring 60 votes to advance most bills, it has virtually no chance of passing.

On Wednesday, in another example of the Senate's capacity for flexibility, 52 senators voted to strike down Biden's vaccine-or-test rule for large companies. All 50 Senate Republicans plus Manchin and Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) were able to kill the president's public health measure with a simple majority vote thanks to a filibuster-proof mechanism called the Congressional Review Act.

"Wait," Warren Gunnels, staff director for Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), said in response. "The Republicans used a procedure to pass legislation by a simple majority vote with little debate, but we still need 60 votes to raise the minimum wage, end voter suppression, and save our democracy?"

"Kinda like the filibuster is just there to protect the wealthy and powerful," he added.


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