Democratic senators like Joe Manchin and Kirsten Sinema are invariably called “moderates” for their stances on things like not increasing the federal minimum wage to a living wage and their vows to protect the filibuster, to preserve its “bipartisan” spirit. They are only “moderates” in a senate where half of the members reflexively refuse to debate anything at all proposed by the Democrat [sic] party.
They can be seen as moderates only in a world where not publicly voicing the idea that their fellow Democrats actually do like to have sex with children and drink their blood and that the rigged 2020 election was clearly stolen from the incumbent in a way too obvious to need any so-called “proof” counts as being “reasonable” and “moderate”.
It is the moderation of a wealthy person who believes that someone demanding $600 a week pay is a greedy, entitled, lazy fuck who will destroy the economy with unreasonably selfish demands.
The long-delayed COVID relief bill, The American Rescue Plan, is now finally going to be debated in the Senate, debated, after Democrats agreed to take the $15/hr federal minimum wage out of it, reduced proposed unemployment payments and Vice President Kamala Harris cast the 51st and deciding vote to HAVE A DEBATE on this crucial legislation, anxiously awaited by literally millions of suffering Americans. The Democratic “moderates,” with their indispensable votes, got on board, once the offensive living wage provision (an artificially low wage — though more than twice the current one — which would be phased in over four long years) was removed from legislation favored by more than 75% of Americans.
All fifty Republican Senators voted against debating this wildly popular, sorely overdue relief bill during a time of massive national suffering. The bipartisan party of Lincoln voted, in a unanimous block, to block debate on a relief bill needed by millions, measures favored by 77% of Americans including 60% of Republicans. They took this united stand because, according to their most vocal fringe, fundraising dynamos one and all, Biden, an illegitimate president, is fake — he pretends to want bipartisanism but look at how he’s already acting like a dictator, just like his N-word buddy the Muslim. If they are not obstructing passage of this legislation for that reason, it is for something equally compelling, I’m sure — like the absolute parliamentary right to obstruct a vote on virtually anything without any debate whatsoever.
The Senate Parliamentarian , who serves at the pleasure of the Senate Majority Leader (who appoints the parliamentarian) gave the “moderate” Democrats cover by ruling that the $15/hr. minimum wage is not properly within the ambit of a budget bill about to be passed by reconciliation (bypassing the 60 vote threshold imposed by the filibuster). The same parliamentarian had no problem ruling that a provision of Trump’s massive tax cut to the wealthy that allowed for oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve  — clearly had to do with the budget and the economy and so could permissibly be passed by a simple majority.
Leaving aside the fact that Elizabeth MacDonough, our nation’s SIXTH Senate Parliamentarian (do the math), currently serves at the pleasure of Chuck Schumer– her decision is not binding. But abiding by her ruling on the minimum wage allows Manchin and Sinema, and any other “moderates” who find a $600 a week wage too extravagant for people who don’t deserve shit and don’t contribute a dime to their political campaigns, to sign on without abandoning their principles (for lack of a better word).
If moderates Manchin and Sinema won’t vote to get rid of the filibuster (and their votes would be needed overcome the 60 vote filibuster mountain to allow the Biden administration to pass anything at all), here are two ideas from a fine discussion by Norm Ornstein on ways to make the filibuster comport with the purpose Machin and Sinema both claim to support.
Ornstein makes the entirely reasonable point that if the minority party wants to obstruct a bill and prevent debate, it should carry the burden of taking strenuous action to do it, rather than forcing the majority to peel off ten votes from the minority (this could not even be done in the recent open and shut impeachment where numerous Republicans admitted they took refuge in a contrived procedural dodge to acquit their leader without actually ruling on the merits). Ornstein accepts the Manchin/Sinema rationale (for purposes of this argument, at least) that the original intent of the filibuster was not to protect slavery or block voting rights and other civil rights, but to increase bipartisanism in the Senate.
One way to restore the filibuster’s original intent would be requiring at least two-fifths of the full Senate, or 40 senators, to keep debating instead requiring 60 to end debate. The burden would fall to the minority, who’d have to be prepared for several votes, potentially over several days and nights, including weekends and all-night sessions, and if only once they couldn’t muster 40 — the equivalent of cloture — debate would end, making way for a vote on final passage of the bill in question.
If you find that too onerous, Democratic “moderates”, how about this?
Go back to the “present and voting” standard.
A shift to three-fifths of the Senate “present and voting” would similarly require the minority to keep most of its members around the Senate when in session. If, for example, the issue in question were voting rights, a Senate deliberating on the floor, 24 hours a day for several days, would put a sharp spotlight on the issue, forcing Republicans to publicly justify opposition to legislation aimed at protecting the voting rights of minorities. Weekend Senate sessions would cause Republicans up for reelection in 2022 to remain in Washington instead of freeing them to go home to campaign. In a three-fifths present and voting scenario, if only 80 senators showed up, only 48 votes would be needed to get to cloture. Add to that a requirement that at all times, a member of the minority party would have to be on the floor, actually debating, and the burden would be even greater, while delivering what Manchin and Sinema say they want — more debate.
Fair enough for you, eh, moderates?
Presently, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, or anyone on his side of the aisle, merely has to have somebody send an email to the appropriate person announcing his party’s intention to filibuster and letting Democrats know they have to find ten brave GOP Senators willing to be censured by their party for consorting with the enemy. Then, the bill unrevivably dead before a word of debate in the Senate, they can go about their business, being bipartisan.
With the end, or reasonable limitation, of the filibuster, we might also be spared the sickening spectacle of yesterday’s late afternoon stunt by Ron Johnson, from Wisconsin, forcing clerks to read the 628 page American Rescue Plan bill aloud, over the course of ten hours, in a virtually empty Senate chamber, vacated but for a single Republican (to ensure the clerks’ compliance) and one Democrat (for some reason or another). Seriously? I wonder what the Parliamentarian would have ruled on the permissibility of that one.
The parliamentarian is appointed by and serves at the pleasure of the Senate Majority Leader. Traditionally, the parliamentarian is chosen from senior staff in the parliamentarian office, which helps ensure consistency in the application of the Senate’s complex rules.
Term length: Pleasure of the Senate Majority Leader
Constituting instrument: Standing Rules of the Senate
In January 2017, MacDonough controversially ruled that a provision in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 that would open the 1002 area of ANWR to oil and gas drilling, met the conditions of the Byrd Rule under budget reconciliation.source