Manchin and the middle
Moderates in Congress stand together against Democrats’ radical agenda
WASHINGTON—Only the power of the filibuster stands in the way of Senate Democrats enacting their aggressive, pro-abortion agenda in this Congress. And just a handful of moderate senators are protecting that power.
One of those senators in particular, Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia, has drawn the attention and efforts of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List. The organization spent $200,000 this week on a radio and social media ad campaign to thank Manchin for saying he would not vote to end the filibuster and to encourage him to stick to his word.
“With pro-abortion majorities in both chambers of Congress, we have to make strategic decisions to support and encourage people like Joe Manchin because they’re our only hope to preserve the filibuster and preserve pro-life values in our nation,” said Prudence Robertson, a communications associate for the group.
Longstanding tradition in the Senate allows any member to filibuster, or delay a vote on a bill until a supermajority demands an end to debate. The rule acts as a check on the party in power when it has a majority of fewer than 10 votes, though some argue it gives too much leverage to the minority. The election of two Democratic senators in runoffs in Georgia earlier this month evenly split the balance of power in the chamber 50-50. Vice President Kamala Harris can cast a vote to break ties, but a piece of legislation cannot advance to a vote without 60 senators backing it.
Prominent voices in the Democratic Party such as former President Barack Obama and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., have pressured Senate Democrats to “go nuclear” and end the filibuster altogether. It would only take 51 votes to change the Senate rules, which could happen if every Democrat supported it. If only one, like Manchin, voted against it, the rule change would fail. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., also said this week she wouldn’t vote to end the filibuster, either.
Behind Manchin, 15 other moderate senators have formed a bipartisan gang of support. The group was also involved in cutting a deal on coronavirus negotiations last year.
The GOP members include Sens. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Susan Collins of Maine, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Jerry Moran of Kansas, Lisa Murkwoski of Alaska, Rob Portman of Ohio, Mitt Romney of Utah, and Todd Young of Indiana. The Democratic senators are Manchin, Maggie Hassan and Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Dick Durbin of Illinois, John Hickenlooper of Colorado, Mark Kelly of Arizona, Mark Warner of Virginia, and Angus King of Maine, an independent who tends to side with Democrats.
Not all of the 16 moderates have directly expressed support for keeping the filibuster, but they have made encouraging bipartisan solutions their group’s purpose, something that changing Senate rules would be sure to sour.
While the filibuster remains in place, Democrats will primarily look to pass President Joe Biden’s legislative agenda through budget reconciliation, or by adding various priorities to bills that deal with federal spending and revenue and therefore only require 51 votes. But only items that significantly affect federal finances are supposed to make it into such legislation, making some agenda items, such as changing the minimum wage, a stretch.
The bipartisan group of senators and a similar gang in the House that calls itself the Problem Solvers Caucus could become instrumental in deciding what Congress accomplishes this term. But they are also in danger of aiming too high and achieving nothing, said Caleb Verbois, an associate professor of political science at Grove City College. During the Bush administration, a group of lawmakers including former Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., formed the “Gang of Eight.”
“They tried to do grand negotiations on Social Security and immigration and for the most part it failed. Retrospectively, I suspect that was because they weren’t trying to do small compromises but really big, grand compromises,” Verbois said. “It’s one thing to say, you guys need us, but it’s another thing to say, we’re so important that you 92 people have to agree with us eight.”
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