The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Manchin’s bill requires 50 votes. Defending constitutional rights should, too.

Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) speaks to reporters at the U.S. Capitol on July 19. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)
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Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) might come out smelling like a rose if his compromise bill on clean energy, prescription drug costs and tax fairness passes. After nearly wrecking President Biden’s term, Manchin could give the president and his fellow Democrats a much-needed lift before the midterms, achieve historic investments in green energy and accomplish Democrats’ decades-old goal to control prescription drug costs.

“Democrats are close to pulling off something that has eluded them for the past year and a half: passing legislation to address climate change and the costs of health care, and doing it without any Republican votes,” The Post reports. “This has been one of President Biden’s top goals since he took office, so much so that he and Democratic leadership have reserved their one legislative tool to get it done: reconciliation.” Pretty impressive, huh?

Now, imagine telling Manchin he would need 60 votes to pass the package. Even he would likely agree that would be an outrageous hurdle to overcome.

As Manchin explained on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday, Republicans have refused to engage in any reasonable discussion on the deal. “I think it’s a great piece of legislation and on normal times, my Republican colleagues would be for something such as this,” he said. He pointed out that their opposition is irrational and driven by rank partisanship. “We’ve basically paid down debt, [which] is what they want. We’ve accelerated permitting, which is what they want,” he said. “And we’ve increased production of energy, which is what they want. We’ve done things that we should be doing together.”

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But since Republicans won’t cooperate, Democrats must move ahead with the reconciliation process — a gigantic loophole in the allegedly sacrosanct filibuster rules. Huge policy goals can be achieved even though the other side willfully obstructs progress.

Henry Olsen

counterpointThe Manchin deal should fail. But Republicans can learn something from it.

Why, then, do Manchin and others cling so tightly to the filibuster rules when equally important — if not more important — policy goals are up for discussion, such as on abortion rights, voting rights and reforming the Supreme Court? It’s tautology to say that the reconciliation process applies only to tax and spending rules under limited circumstances. Why should items not directly tied to spending have to be stripped out of legislation?

Democrats can leave the filibuster in place if they must but can simply alter the Senate’s “Byrd rules” governing reconciliation bills so that measures pertaining to the restoration or protection of fundamental rights can be included. An infrastructure bill could also include “democracy infrastructure” that protects voting rights. The same limit on reconciliation legislation (once or twice per fiscal year) could still apply.

Manchin’s current legislative effort highlights just how hypocritical he is for opposing filibuster fixes. Indeed, he has relied on demonstrably false premises to defend his position.

For example, he often argues that Democrats and Republicans can always negotiate things together. Not so in the era of petulant obstruction from MAGA Republicans. In the case of his own mammoth bill, Manchin has realized that Democrats should not allow Republican opposition to deter them.

Manchin also frequently insists that if Democrats take steps to weaken the filibuster, Republicans will do the same when they are in power. Well, Republicans have already weakened Senate rules by lowering the votes needed to confirm Supreme Court justices to a simple majority. Republicans have also already used the reconciliation process in an attempt to pass bills such as the repeal of the Affordable Care Act. That failed because their extreme measures were so unpopular that they could not get even a majority for that.

I don’t expect Manchin to acknowledge his intellectual dishonesty and blatant inconsistency. But that doesn’t mean the rest of his party has to go along. If voters send two more Democrats to the Senate and somehow hold the House (if not in 2022, then win it back in 2024), they should consider using their power to secure fundamental constitutional rights that the Supreme Court has stripped away.

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