A centrist U.S. Democratic lawmaker, Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, is renewing his opposition to changes in the parliamentary rules in the politically divided Senate, imperiling President Joe Biden’s ambitious legislative agenda.
In the Senate, now with 50 Democrats and 50 Republicans, members of both parties in recent years have more frequently employed a filibuster to block key legislation they did not like. Once a filibuster has begun, it requires a 60-vote super majority to end debate and move a bill to a final vote.
Some progressive Democrats want to end use of the filibuster in order to approve Biden’s legislative proposals on voting rights, infrastructure spending and more on 51-50 votes, with Vice President Kamala Harris casting the deciding vote in favor of the Biden agenda.
But Manchin, perhaps the most conservative lawmaker in the 50-member Democratic caucus, has long defended the filibuster.
In an opinion article published in Thursday’s Washington Post, Manchin ruled out a rules change to end the filibuster or repeated use of another legislative tactic known as budget reconciliation, which was employed by Democrats to secure passage of Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief deal despite unified Republican opposition.
“There is no circumstance in which I will vote to eliminate or weaken the filibuster,” Manchin declared. “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.”
He added, “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.”
Earlier this week, Senate Democrats won permission from the chamber’s parliamentarian to use the reconciliation process again this year. That would enable them to avoid a Republican filibuster of Biden’s $2 trillion infrastructure proposal and pass it on a party-line vote.
"I simply do not believe budget reconciliation should replace regular order in the Senate,” Manchin wrote in his opinion article. “How is that good for the future of this nation? Senate Democrats must avoid the temptation to abandon our Republican colleagues on important national issues."
"Republicans, however,” he said, “have a responsibility to stop saying no, and participate in finding real compromise with Democrats."
A few weeks ago, Manchin suggested he would be amenable to making it harder to use the filibuster, such as by renewing the tradition from years past when filibustering lawmakers were required to hold the floor during Senate debates by speaking for hours without a recess.
Biden, for 36 years a senator himself before serving eight years as vice president and then winning the presidency, says he favors once again making senators actually talk through a filibuster, which is not now the case.
But Manchin, with his new statement, declared his opposition to weakening the filibuster, saying, “Every time the Senate voted to weaken the filibuster in the past decade, the political dysfunction and gridlock have grown more severe.”
He said, “The political games playing out in the halls of Congress only fuel the hateful rhetoric and violence we see across our country right now. The truth is, my Democratic friends do not have all the answers and my Republican friends do not, either.”
While simple majorities are enough to approve legislation in the House, 60 votes are often necessary in the Senate to end debate on controversial issues and move forward to a vote. If the filibuster is eliminated to thwart opponents from blocking key legislation, a Democratic majority, as is currently the case with the Harris tie-breaking vote, could pass legislation with a simple majority.