Senator Joe Manchin, a moderate Democrat who wields significant power in the party's narrow 50-seat majority in the Senate, reiterated that he would not vote to eliminate or weaken the filibuster, all but dooming the chances of passage for several key Democratic priorities. Ending the filibuster would mean that legislation could advance in the Senate with only a simple majority, instead of the 60-vote threshold currently required.
"There is no circumstance in which I will vote to eliminate or weaken the filibuster," Manchin said in an opinion piece in The Washington Post. "The time has come to end these political games, and to usher a new era of bipartisanship where we find common ground on the major policy debates facing our nation."
As Democrats only hold 50 seats in the Senate, they would need support from at least 10 Republicans to end debate on most legislation and bring bills to the floor for a full vote. Several of the measures which have recently passed the House — shoring up voting rights, enacting campaign finance reform, enshrining legal protections for LGBTQ Americans, raising the federal minimum wage and implementing stronger background checks for firearm purchases — are unlikely to garner support from the requisite number of Republicans.
Many Democrats in Congress argue it's necessary to get rid of the filibuster so that these measures can, at the very least, get a vote on the floor of the Senate. But Manchin said in his op-ed that the filibuster is a necessary tool to protect the rights of the minority party.
Manchin argued that changes to the filibuster in 2013 and 2017, which allowed judicial and Supreme Court nominees to be approved with a simple majority of votes, had only intensified "political dysfunction and gridlock."
"The political games playing out in the halls of Congress only fuel the hateful rhetoric and violence we see across our country right now," Manchin said, arguing that the filibuster forces senators to work together to address important issues. "The issues facing our democracy today are not insurmountable if we choose to tackle them together."
Manchin also worried that using workarounds to avoid the filibuster could damage the regular order of the Senate. One such method is budget reconciliation, which allows the Senate to pass budget-related items with a simple majority. Congress passed President Biden's $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan using budget reconciliation, and may also opt to pass his $2 trillion infrastructure package using reconciliation.
"We should all be alarmed at how the budget reconciliation process is being used by both parties to stifle debate around the major issues facing our country today," Manchin wrote. "I simply do not believe budget reconciliation should replace regular order in the Senate. How is that good for the future of this nation?"
He argued that Senate Democrats "must avoid the temptation to abandon our Republican colleagues," but also called on the GOP "to stop saying no, and participate in finding real compromise with Democrats."
"Working legislation through regular order in the Senate prevents drastic swings in federal policymaking," Manchin said. "If the filibuster is eliminated or budget reconciliation becomes the norm, a new and dangerous precedent will be set to pass sweeping, partisan legislation that changes the direction of our nation every time there is a change in political control."
Opponents of the filibuster argue that it gives the minority too much power. Democrats currently control the House and Senate as well as the White House, although their majorities in Congress are narrow. If Republicans block that agenda, the thinking goes, it is subverting the will of the American people. Some Democrats have suggested creating a carve-out in filibuster rules for legislation related to voting rights. Historically, the filibuster was used extensively by senators from the South to block civil rights legislation, leading some critics to refer to the rule as a relic of Jim Crow laws. These lawmakers argue that it is necessary to end the filibuster to allow for the passage of the For the People Act, a sweeping elections and campaign finance reform bill, and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, which would restore provisions in the 1965 Voting Rights Act knocked down by the Supreme Court.
Manchin said that some of the provisions in the For the People Act could have bipartisan support, and "our ultimate goal should be to restore bipartisan faith in our voting process by assuring all Americans that their votes will be counted, secured and protected."
"Efforts to expand voting hours and access, improve our election security and increase transparency in campaign finance and advertisement rules should and do have broad, bipartisan support and would quickly address the needs facing Americans today. Taking bipartisan action on voting reform would go a long way in restoring the American people's faith in Congress and our ability to deliver results for them," Manchin said.
Many Democrats argue that it is necessary to pass the For the People Act in order to counter new state laws restricting voting rights proposed and passed by state legislatures in the aftermath of the 2020 election. But Manchin had previously opposed creating an exception to the filibuster, saying last month that weakening it would be like being "a little bit pregnant" — meaning that it is impossible to only partially change the rules.
Manchin said he believes it is possible for both parties to come together and negotiate, assuming that Republicans and Democrats would come to the table in good faith.
"We will not solve our nation's problems in one Congress if we seek only partisan solutions. Instead of fixating on eliminating the filibuster or shortcutting the legislative process through budget reconciliation, it is time we do our jobs," Manchin said.
In remarks on Wednesday, Mr. Biden said that he was open to negotiating with Republicans on his infrastructure package, but said that GOP lawmakers were unwilling to truly compromise. He said that when he invited Republicans to the White House to talk about the American Rescue Plan, they provided a counteroffer of $600 billion, but then did not budge on that number.
"They didn't move an inch. Not an inch," Mr. Biden said. Republicans would argue that Democrats should have lowered their bid for real compromise, but Democrats say that they are the party in power, and so Republicans should try to meet with them.
A simple majority is required to end the filibuster. As long as Manchin remains opposed to eliminating the filibuster, many of the bills supported by congressional Democrats and Mr. Biden will likely be dead on arrival in the Senate — leading Democratic leadership to believe budget reconciliation is their only option.