Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) are holding a lot of power right now. They’re also infuriating the progressive Left. Both beat to their own drums. Both won’t be told what to do, Sinema especially. She’s been known to more or less tell Chuck Schumer to screw off. Liberals want to torch them because they’re dead set against nuking the legislative filibuster. There aren’t many Democrats I like, but Manchin and Sinema are two who aren’t unhinged after the Trump era. These are actually two Democrats that Republicans can and should work with when certain issues present themselves.
So, it looks like Chuck and the rest of the Senate Democratic caucus won’t have the votes to rule by a simple majority. And yes, it’s reassuring that if Manchin for example decides to cave, there’s Sinema to keep the firewall strong and vice versa. Again, these two aren’t known for switching positions once they’ve drawn their lines in the sand. This filibuster stuff would be better put to rest if we had won the Georgia runoffs. We would have set the terms on that, but we didn’t win. But we found two senators who aren’t going along with the rabid anti-Trump Left on nuking this procedural motion that’s been around for eons. So, are we out of the woods? Nope. Not by a long shot. We have another rule to deal with—the one that’s named after the late Robert Byrd. Wall Street Journal columnist Kimberley Strassel went into detail on this flank march around the filibuster rules and how Sinema and Manchin must be asked about where they stand on reconciliation to truly have a firewall against the radical agenda items Democrats want to pass this session. In Strassel’s words, the Sinema-Manchin promise on the filibuster is “only half a loaf” (via WSJ):
The Senate in fact has two guards against allowing a bare majority to jam through sweeping policy changes. One is the legislative filibuster. The other is what’s known as the Byrd rule—named after the senator whose seat Mr. Manchin now holds.
The Senate has a process called budget reconciliation, which allows certain spending and tax measures to pass the chamber with a simple majority. Sen. Robert C. Byrd, who died in 2010, was a defender of the chamber’s “deliberative process” and in 1985 moved to stop senators who were abusing reconciliation by jamming nonbudget issues into those bills simply to avoid the 60-vote requirement. The Senate unanimously adopted his rule, which essentially puts the Senate parliamentarian in charge of deciding whether items in reconciliation bills are truly budget-related. The Byrd rule protects against the majority using reconciliation as an end-run around the legislative filibuster.
And don’t Democrats know it. Even as the two senators vow never to bust the filibuster, their Democratic colleagues are plotting instead to bust the Byrd rule. Progressive groups are ramping up pressure on Democrats to load the Biden agenda into reconciliation bills, then simply overrule the parliamentarian when she finds them in violation of the Byrd rule. A recent Vox piece lectured that the decision of an “unelected bureaucrat” does not equal “a divine command.” Some activists are making the case that Vice President Kamala Harris, who presides over the Senate, ought to have final authority over what counts for reconciliation. “Damn right we will” pass legislation, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders told reporters this week. “There is a process called reconciliation.”
Democrats are debating using reconciliation to pass another round of Covid relief. Many of their spending or tax provisions likely qualify under reconciliation rules. But progressives are pushing Democrats also to jam through items that in no conceivable way pass the Byrd test, such as statehood for the District of Columbia. Should Democrats overrule the parliamentarian, the filibuster becomes meaningless as the floodgates open. Especially because Democrats have two more opportunities to pass reconciliation bills before the 2022 midterm elections. Congress didn’t pass a reconciliation bill last year, so Democrats can pass two this year and a third in 2022.
In short, Mr. Manchin and Ms. Sinema haven’t saved the filibuster—yet. They won’t unless they also publicly make clear they will reject any Democratic vote to overrule the parliamentarian and kill the Byrd rule. Mr. Manchin’s office told me that “he remains committed to ensuring President Biden is successful in getting the resources he needs and that there is a bipartisan path forward on additional Covid relief.” Ms. Sinema’s office declined to comment.
Ok, so maybe I popped the champagne a bit early regarding this duo stopping Biden’s radical agenda in the Senate. It’s not a setback, but this question has to be resolved. You can call them as well. Their congressional office information is readily available. Instead of a touchdown, the review showed the runner didn’t cross the goal line. It’s now second and goal. We’re in the RedZone here, folks. But that doesn’t negate that fact that redzone plays have been blown up as well.
It’s the nitty gritty of the D.C. beltway and the legislative process here, but Strassel is right that the Byrd rule and reconciliation is the Stonewall Jackson flank march and Chancellorsville against the filibuster—and Manchin gave a non-answer, with Sinema refusing to say anything.