"Thing A is vital to bringing about Thing B" is fair enough when Thing A hasn't been in place for decades without bringing about Thing B. If that's the case, you start to sound a little loco. Naturally, this phenomenon is highly common in American national politics. Year after year we were forced to sit through lectures about how low taxes on the rich would fuel prosperity that would trickle down to the common folk—and that the tax cuts would even pay for themselves!—even as we had year after year of evidence that it had not and never would. Year after year we would get assurances from various four-star generals that we are going to win the war in Afghanistan. And now, once again, we are being asked to Stay The Course on the filibuster, this time by one Joseph Manchin III. The reason? This is the way to reach that hallowed ground known as Bipartisan Compromise, an aspiration deemed higher, even, than making good policy that helps your constituents.
"The filibuster is a critical tool to protecting that input and our democratic form of government," the West Virginia senator said in a new Washington Post op-ed. "That is why I have said it before and will say it again to remove any shred of doubt: There is no circumstance in which I will vote to eliminate or weaken the filibuster. 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."
If the filibuster fosters bipartisanship, where is all the bipartisanship? Where has it been for these last decades when the filibuster has been in place? Here's a simple diagram of Manchin's argument:
The filibuster is currently in place.
There is currently very little bipartisanship.
If we keep it in place there will be lots of bipartisanship.
We don't even need to get into the likelihood of Mitch McConnell ushering his caucus towards voting for a sweeping infrastructure bill that matches the scale of the problems this country faces—and, most importantly in his assessment, might make a sitting Democratic president look good. You don't need to speculate about the future. We have the filibuster now, and it has not fostered bipartisanship. The burden of proof is on Senator Manchin to explain how that is going to magically change, not on the rest of us who have accepted reality.
Unless, of course, this is not Manchin’s real deal. In the future he’s all but ensured, Democrats will likely have to pursue infrastructure bills through reconciliation, which will leave Manchin as the 50th and decisive vote for passage on those bills. That means he will exercise huge power over what's contained within, and will be ideally placed to secure projects for his native West Virginia—which he absolutely should in any case. (Manchin has, to his credit, evinced major enthusiasm for infrastructure spending and raising taxes on the rich to pay for it.) But this motivation, combined with a desire to be seen as an independent swing actor immune to the pressures of Democratic leadership, would make a whole lot more sense as Manchin's true calculus than the idea Lindsey Graham is going to do the right thing for America regardless of whether the opposing party might benefit.
Instead, though, we're treated to a Manchin op-ed where he seamlessly transitions from a discussion of The Founding Fathers and their vision for the Senate to talk of the vital role of the filibuster, with no mention of the fact that The Founding Fathers did not include the filibuster in their vision of the Senate. Then he attributed Senate dysfunction to times the filibuster has been reformed in the last decade, as if Democrats did not change the rule on judges because Mitch McConnell was engaged in a scorched-earth campaign to simply erase President Obama's constitutional prerogative to appoint judges to the federal bench out of a desire to pack that bench with reliable right-wing jurists. (He succeeded.) Manchin's account is completely ahistorical, chiefly in his refusal to grapple with the history of the filibuster in its actual use, which is not pretty.
Manchin even laments the use of budget reconciliation bills for so much of Senate business, as if the 60-vote threshold of the filibuster has not directly contributed to this phenomenon! If you want to pass a bill, you have to cram it into reconciliation so that you only need 51 votes, which also has the effect of turning the Senate into an ATM. Since reconciliation bills are required to focus on things significantly impacting the federal budget, almost exclusively passing bills through this mechanism precludes the Senate from legislating on anything else—like H.R. 1/S. 1, the For the People Act, which Manchin has likely doomed, along with any kind of voting-rights legislation, if he makes good on this op-ed. This reconciliation phenomenon has also fueled the decay of the power balance between our various branches of the government: as Congress has recoiled from broader policymaking, the Executive Branch and the courts have stepped in to fill the power vacuum. It's all out of whack.
"I simply do not believe budget reconciliation should replace regular order in the Senate," Manchin continued. "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, have a responsibility to stop saying no, and participate in finding real compromise with Democrats."
Right. Whenever you want to rejoin the rest of us in reality, where Republicans have demonstrated zero interest in constructive behavior whenever a non-Republican is the figurehead of the national government, do let us know. Incredibly, Manchin spent the rest of the op-ed laying out great policy ideas that are now dead because of his op-ed. Because again, it ain't more complicated than this: the filibuster is currently in place and it has not fostered bipartisanship. But yeah, maybe some of the folks who voted to overturn the results of the last election based on an insane collective delusion will surely prove to be reliable partners in fixing this country.
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