From Reconciliation to a 'Nuclear Strike on the Filibuster': Progressive Memo Details Steps Biden Can Take to Defeat GOP Obstruction

With Senate Republicans already indicating that they will attempt to block passage of President-elect Joe Biden’s newly released $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package, a trio of progressive organizations on Monday released a memo outlining steps the incoming president can take to overcome GOP obstruction and “deliver tangible results that improve Americans’ lives.”

“We are glad President-elect Biden is ready to start addressing the desperate needs of the American people and put forth a Covid aid proposal which begins to address the many issues we face,” reads the document (pdf) crafted by Justice Democrats, the youth-led Sunrise Movement, and New Deal Strategies. “We hope ten Senate Republicans will support it, but are not holding our breath. The big question is, what happens when Republicans block Biden?”

With Democrats set to take unified control of the federal government thanks to runoff victories by Sens.-elect Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff of Georgia earlier this month, progressives have argued that the party can no longer point to Republican intransigence as an excuse for failing to advance its agenda.

“A quick strike against the filibuster in January will set Biden up to shepherd his entire agenda through regular order, with full committee involvement and proper levels of oversight and transparency.”
—Justice Democrats, Sunrise Movement, New Deal Strategies

In their new memo, the progressive organizations outlined several strategic paths available to the incoming Biden administration should Republicans stand in the way of coronavirus relief and other key legislation.

One option, the groups said, is to weaken the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief offer in a bid to win Republican support, which Biden has committed to seeking out despite warnings against compromising with the party that abetted the deadly January 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol.

“We hope Biden rejects the first option out of hand,” the groups said. “Watering down the proposals in a hunt for Republican support is a bad idea on both substance and politics. The package Biden has proposed is a start to the aid America needs and it is popular. We should not play into Republicans’ hands by delivering less aid while making the bill less popular.”

An alternative to watering down a relief proposal that has already been criticized as inadequate is to try to pass the package through budget reconciliation, an expedited process that is not subject to the filibuster and therefore requires only a simple majority vote.

The trio of progressive groups argued that “reconciliation is a tempting option but it is ultimately a path to creating two classes of issues, with civil rights, D.C. statehood, and many other critical issues relegated to second-class status,” given Senate rules limiting the kinds of legislation that can be passed through reconciliation.

“If Biden uses reconciliation, which we hope he does not, he must do so aggressively,” the groups said, “with the intent of using it as a backdoor to eliminating the supermajority threshold for all issues.”

By far the best way to defeat GOP stonewalling, the progressive coalition argued, is to “get rid of the filibuster immediately,” a rule change that would require a simple majority vote. To achieve that, every Senate Democrat would need to vote yes and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris would have to break the tie, assuming all Republicans oppose the move.

“A quick strike against the filibuster in January will set Biden up to shepherd his entire agenda through regular order, with full committee involvement and proper levels of oversight and transparency,” the groups said.

While Biden has said he would be open to eliminating the filibuster, several Democratic senators—including Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), and Jon Tester (D-Mont.)—have voiced opposition to such a reform despite its popularity among Democratic voters.

Justice Democrats, Sunrise, and New Deal Strategies argued that Biden “has the credibility and the political capital to bring along” the senators currently opposed to scrapping the filibuster.

“Every other path leads to needless complications and worse results for the American people,” the groups warned. “Biden was elected with a mandate to break gridlock and deliver results. He should use it.”

Read the full memo:

We are glad President-elect Biden is ready to start addressing the desperate needs of the American people and put forth a Covid aid proposal which begins to address the many issues we face. We hope ten Senate Republicans will support it, but are not holding our breath. The big question is, what happens when Republicans block Biden? Biden has chosen to reject austerity politics. We hope that he will continue to stick to that approach, and ​go big always​.

When Republicans deny Biden the ten GOP votes he will need to advance his Covid aid package, Biden will have three options:

  1. Dramatically weaken the aid package and deliver worse results for the American people
  2. Seek to pass the entire package through budget reconciliation
  3. Reform Senate rules to get rid of the supermajority threshold, and pass the package through regular order.

Do not water down. ​We hope Biden rejects the first option out of hand. Watering down the proposals in a hunt for Republican support is a bad idea on both substance and politics. The package Biden has proposed is a start to the aid America needs and it is popular. We should not play into Republicans’ hands by delivering less aid while making the bill less popular. When the Obama administration decided to deliver a smaller ARRA package in exchange for paltry Republican support, it was a bad trade. Democrats got no credit politically for a bipartisan deal,and Americans judged Democrats harshly in the 2010 midterms in large part because they did not see enough improvement in their own economic situation. The same is true now: Democrats will be judged in the 2022 midterms on whether they deliver tangible results that improve Americans’ lives. Their guiding principle should be to always go big. As former Obama strategist David Plouffe ​said​, “If you do small things and you do the bare minimum, you’re probably going to pay a price for that. It’s bad for the country and bad politics.”

Do not waste precious time. ​President Obama recently admitted that he and Democratic Party leadership wasted precious time negotiating with moderate Republicans like Chuck Grassley and Olympia Snowe in order to provide the Affordable Care Act bipartisan cover. Biden and Democratic Party leadership have essentially nine months to act before the 2022 election cycle kicks into gear. There’s nothing that would please Mitch McConnell more than to allow Republicans to run out the legislative clock on key Democratic priorities.

Reconciliation relegates critical issues to second-class status. ​Reconciliation is a tempting option but it is ultimately a path to creating two classes of issues, with civil rights, D.C. statehood, and many other critical issues relegated to second-class status. If Biden uses reconciliation, which we hope he does not, he must do so aggressively, with the intent of using it as a backdoor to eliminating the supermajority threshold for all issues. While much of this bill might be able to be achieved through reconciliation, a package of this size is likely to run afoul of the rules. If Biden does use reconciliation, he should apply the principle of going big always, and be prepared to go nuclear to change reconciliation rules if and when the Senate Parliamentarian strikes down key provisions, rather than abandoning them.

The larger problem with reconciliation is that if we only use reconciliation and do not reform the filibuster, certain kinds of legislation will be allowed to avoid the filibuster while other critical issues like civil rights and statehood are left to die by the filibuster. This creates a first- and second-class status for progressive issues, with civil rights, statehood and many climate change solutions relegated to second-class status.

If reconciliation is pursued, it must be with a mind to either limbering up Senate Democrats for a full-blown nuclear strike on the filibuster, or expanding the use of reconciliation so extensively that it can be used for all issues (which is, in effect, going nuclear).

Get rid of the filibuster. ​It would be far healthier, cleaner, and easier to explain politically to simply reform or get rid of the filibuster immediately, and proceed to pass Biden’s agenda through regular order—including must-pass civil rights bills, climate solutions and statehood. A quick strike against the filibuster in January will set Biden up to shepherd his entire agenda through regular order, with full committee involvement and proper levels of oversight and transparency. Biden has the credibility and the political capital to bring along the small number of wavering senators. Every other path leads to needless complications and worse results for the American people. Biden was elected with a mandate to break gridlock and deliver results. He should use it. Just do it—reform the filibuster and deliver results to the American people.

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Common Dreams | Radio Free (2021-07-28T13:26:37+00:00) » From Reconciliation to a 'Nuclear Strike on the Filibuster': Progressive Memo Details Steps Biden Can Take to Defeat GOP Obstruction. Retrieved from https://www.radiofree.org/2021/01/19/from-reconciliation-to-a-nuclear-strike-on-the-filibuster-progressive-memo-details-steps-biden-can-take-to-defeat-gop-obstruction/.
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" » From Reconciliation to a 'Nuclear Strike on the Filibuster': Progressive Memo Details Steps Biden Can Take to Defeat GOP Obstruction." Common Dreams | Radio Free - Tuesday January 19, 2021, https://www.radiofree.org/2021/01/19/from-reconciliation-to-a-nuclear-strike-on-the-filibuster-progressive-memo-details-steps-biden-can-take-to-defeat-gop-obstruction/
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» From Reconciliation to a 'Nuclear Strike on the Filibuster': Progressive Memo Details Steps Biden Can Take to Defeat GOP Obstruction | Common Dreams | Radio Free | https://www.radiofree.org/2021/01/19/from-reconciliation-to-a-nuclear-strike-on-the-filibuster-progressive-memo-details-steps-biden-can-take-to-defeat-gop-obstruction/ | 2021-07-28T13:26:37+00:00
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