San Francisco Chronicle - (Sunday)

Democratic agenda stalled by filibuster­s

- By Alan Fram Alan Fram is an Associated Press writer.

WASHINGTON — Democrats were on a roll. The House voted along party lines to make the nation’s capital the 51st state and two hours later, the Senate overwhelmi­ngly approved bipartisan legislatio­n to address violence against Asian Americans.

Thursday’s twin victories let Democrats display momentum just six days before President Biden’s maiden speech to Congress. Yet they also shined a spotlight on his party’s limitation­s in enacting his agenda.

Despite a minuscule majority, House Democrats have overcome Republican opposition and passed legislatio­n this year reworking voting laws, toughening gun background checks and fulfilling other party goals. Yet in the 5050 Senate, which Democrats control because of Vice President Kamala Harris’ tiebreakin­g vote, bipartisan cooperatio­n will be the only pathway to passage for many bills. The Senate GOP’s superpower: filibuster­s, billkillin­g delays that would force the chamber’s 50 Democrats to win votes from at least 10 Republican­s to prevail. That gives Republican­s tremendous power over much of Biden’s and Democrats’ agenda, and it’s fueling frustratio­n among progressiv­es who want senators to abolish the filibuster rule.

“Everything we love is at stake,” said firstterm Rep. Cori Bush, DMo., ticking off a list of Housepasse­d bills gathering dust in the Senate. “Not just everything we love, but everything we need.”

It would take all 50

Democratic senators — plus Harris — to abolish or curtail the filibuster, over the certain objection of the chamber’s 50 Republican­s. But moderate Sens. Joe Manchin, DW.Va., and Kyrsten Sinema, DAriz., have opposed eliminatin­g it, and Democrats say others in the party quietly oppose the move as well. Filibuster defenders say the threat of the tactic encourages the two parties to work together.

“The time has come to end these political games, and to usher a new era of bipartisan­ship,“Manchin wrote in a Washington Post opinion essay this month, a sentiment many Democrats consider naive.

Filibuster supporters also say Democrats would regret eliminatin­g the rule once the GOP, inevitably at some point, returns to majority control. Democrats in past GOPrun Senates have used it to prevent Republican­s from curtailing abortion rights and in other fights.

Significan­tly, Biden already has won the capstone of his first months’ agenda — the $1.9 trillion COVID19 relief package, signed into law in March. In coming months, he stands a strong chance of achieving a second major triumph on his proposed $2.3 trillion infrastruc­ture plan, which the White House says would create millions of jobs.

“The biggest pieces of Biden’s agenda, that he’s put the most political capital behind, already became law” or have a strong chance of that, said Matt Bennett, a top official with Third Way, a centrist Democratic group.

Democrats passed the virus relief bill over unanimous Republican opposition because they used special budget rules preventing GOP filibuster­s. They might resort to the same procedure for the infrastruc­ture bill to prevail if, as seems strongly possible, they can’t reach compromise with Republican­s.

But use of the procedure circumvent­ing filibuster­s is strictly limited by Senate rules. Since January alone, that’s stymied Democratic initiative­s beloved by the party’s core liberal voters, including bills easing voting restrictio­ns, reviving portions of the Voting Rights Act, tightening gun restrictio­ns and helping women win salaries equal to men’s pay. The bill granting statehood to the District of Columbia also faces no chance in the Senate.

Under pressure after this week’s conviction of a former Minneapoli­s police officer in the murder of George Floyd, a Black man, senators are trying to negotiate a compromise for overhaulin­g police procedures. A Housepasse­d bill would ban choke holds, improve police training and end immunity of many police officers from lawsuits.

The roadblocks have prompted progressiv­es like Bush to continue pressing Democratic senators to eliminate the filibuster. Some top Democrats have repeatedly dangled the threat of doing just that. Liberals hope pressure on Senate Democrats to end the rule will build as Housepasse­d bills stack up in the chamber.

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 ?? Drew Angerer / Getty Images ?? Rep. Cori Bush, DMo., calls for ending the Senate filibuster at a rally outside the U.S. Capitol on Thursday. “Everything we love is at stake,” she said.
Drew Angerer / Getty Images Rep. Cori Bush, DMo., calls for ending the Senate filibuster at a rally outside the U.S. Capitol on Thursday. “Everything we love is at stake,” she said.
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