Press-Telegram (Long Beach)

Dems debating changes to allow more party-line votes

- By Hope Yen

WASHINGTON » With President Joe Biden on the verge of his first big legislativ­e victory, a key moderate Democrat said Sunday he’s open to changing Senate rules that could allow for more party-line votes to push through other parts of the White House’s agenda such as voting rights.

West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin stressed that he wants to keep the procedural hurdle known as the filibuster, saying major legislatio­n should always have significan­t input from the minority party. But he noted there are other ways to change the rules that now effectivel­y require 60 votes for most legislatio­n. One example: the “talking filibuster,” which requires senators to slow a bill by holding the floor, but then grants an “up or down” simple majority vote if they give up.

“The filibuster should be painful, it really should be painful and we’ve made it more comfortabl­e over the years,” Manchin said. “Maybe it has to be more painful.”

“If you want to make it a little bit more painful, make him stand there and talk,” Manchin added. “I’m willing to look at any way we can, but I’m not willing to take away the involvemen­t of the minority.”

Democrats are beginning to look to their next legislativ­e priorities after an early signature win for Biden on Saturday, with the Senate approving a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief plan on a party-line 50-49 vote.

Final passage is expected Tuesday in the House if leaders can hold the support of progressiv­es frustrated that the Senate narrowed unemployme­nt benefits and stripped out an increase to the federal minimum

— West Virginia Republican Sen. Joe Manchin

wage to $15 an hour.

Over the weekend, the chair of the Congressio­nal Progressiv­e Caucus, representi­ng around 100 House liberals, called the Senate’s weakening of some provisions “bad policy and bad politics.” But Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., also characteri­zed the changes as “relatively minor concession­s” and emphasized the bill retained its “core bold, progressiv­e elements.”

Biden says he would sign the measure immediatel­y if the House passed it. The legislatio­n would allow many Americans to receive $1,400 in direct checks from the government this month.

“Lessons learned: If we have unity, we can do big things,” a jubilant Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., told The Associated Press in an interview after Saturday’s vote.

Still, the Democrats’ approach required a lastminute call from Biden to Manchin to secure his vote after he raised late resistance to the breadth of unemployme­nt benefits. That immediatel­y raised questions about the path ahead in a partisan environmen­t where few, if any, Republican­s are expected to back planks of the president’s agenda.

Democrats used a fasttrack budget process known as reconcilia­tion to approve Biden’s top priority without Republican support, a strategy that succeeded despite the reservatio­ns of some moderates. But work in the coming months on other issues such as voting rights and immigratio­n could prove more difficult.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., pledged that Senate Republican­s would block passage of a sweeping House-passed bill on voting rights. The measure, known as HR 1, would restrict partisan gerrymande­ring of congressio­nal districts, strike down hurdles to voting and bring transparen­cy to the campaign finance system. It would serve as a counterwei­ght to voting rights restrictio­ns advancing in Republican-controlled statehouse­s across the country in the wake of Donald Trump’s repeated false claims about a “stolen” election.

“Not one Republican is going to vote for HR 1 because it’s a federal takeover of elections, it sets up a system where there is no real voter security or verificati­on,” Graham said. “It is a liberal wish list in terms of how you vote.”

When asked about the voting rights bill, Manchin on Sunday left the door open to supporting some kind of a workaround to allow for passage based on a simple majority, suggesting he could support “reconcilia­tion” if he was satisfied that Republican­s had the ability to provide input. But it was unclear how that would work as voting rights are not budget-related and would not qualify for the reconcilia­tion process.“I’m not going to go there until my Republican friends have the ability to have their say also,” Manchin said.

“The filibuster should be painful, it really should be painful and we’ve made it more comfortabl­e over the years. Maybe it has to be more painful.”

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