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Joe Manchin’s definition of Senate minority ‘input’ is off-base

The ability of 41% of the Senate to stop any bill from coming to a vote simply because they oppose it is deeply undemocratic and unrepublican (using those terms in their nonpartisan sense).

Sen. Joe Manchin is the most conservative member of the Democrats’ 50-member quasi-majority.
Sen. Joe Manchin is the most conservative member of the Democrats’ 50-member quasi-majority.
Leigh Vogel/Pool via REUTERS

This will be a short, annoyingly semantic post.

Sen. Joe Manchin, the most conservative member of the Democrats’ 50-member quasi-majority (I say “quasi” because it also requires a 51st tie-breaking vote from Vice President Kamala Harris to constitute a bare majority if all 50 Republican senators are opposed) says he wants the Republican minority to have “input” in the Senate.

Input, sure. Merriam Webster starts the definition of “input” with: “something that is put in: such as: ADVICE, OPINION, COMMENT.”

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You betcha. I’m with Manchin. Members of the Senate minority should be able to offer advice, express opinions and make comments on anything that comes up in the Senate.  If the majority favored a rule that would do away with the minority’s opportunity to give advice, offer opinions about, or comment upon some matter before the Senate, that would be an abuse of power.

But Manchin goes on to explain what he means by “input,” thus:

“That means protecting the filibuster. It must be a process to get to that 60-vote threshold.”

No, Sen. Manchin. That’s not what “input” means. Protecting the filibuster means that 41 members of the Senate can block 59 members from passing a bill, including a bill that has majority support in the country, in the more (small-d) democratic House, and that the president, chosen by majority vote (at least in the ridiculous Electoral College), is prepared to sign.

Under the Senate filibuster tradition, as evolved, to end debate and put such a bill to a final up-or-down vote, it takes 60 votes to invoke cloture. There are more complexities to the filibuster than that, but that’s the essence. That’s not guaranteeing minority “input.” If Manchin sticks to that definition of “input,” it means minority rule.

Our system is quite dysfunctional at present. Partisanship is at perhaps an all-time high. The Republican minority can (and might) block almost anything from passing. There is talk of changing the filibuster, maybe back to the old “talking filibuster” system, where the side that wants to filibuster has to actually stand on the Senate floor and keep talking to prevent a final vote.

Manchin says he’s open to something like that. But it would still mean that a sufficiently devoted 41 senators can stop a bill that has majority support (and the added disadvantage of keeping the Senate from other work while the nonstop talking continues).

Either of these barriers to how a bill becomes law is obviously (to me at least) stupid and undemocratic. It’s fine to have a few especially momentous items, like a constitutional amendment, face supermajority barriers to passage. But the ability of 41 percent of the Senate to stop any bill from coming to a vote simply because they oppose it is deeply undemocratic and unrepublican (using those terms in their nonpartisan sense).

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But there you are, because that’s where Manchin’s position puts us, with 41 percent of the Senate (in many cases, if you did the math, representing a lot less than 41 percent of the electorate because the population of Democratic-leaning states is generally higher than Republican-leaning states) able to stop a bill from coming to a vote even if it has majority support in the electorate, the population, in both houses of Congress, and in the White House.

Although Manchin’s filibuster position is nothing brand-new, the Politico piece about it that set me off on this rant is here.