“This triumph did not mean complete success for the New Frontier,” the historian James Smallwood wrote in a 1973 journal article on the Rules Committee fight, “it only meant that the entire House could consider its proposals and that the majority would rule.”
Here in the present, Senate Republicans aren’t the only ones pumping the brakes on the president’s agenda. On Monday, Manchin announced his total support for the Senate filibuster in an interview with Politico. “If I haven’t said it very plain, maybe Senator McConnell hasn’t understood, I want to basically say it for you. That I will not vote in this Congress, that’s two years, right? I will not vote” to change the filibuster.
Likewise, a spokeswoman for Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona said that the senator is “against eliminating the filibuster, and she is not open to changing her mind about the filibuster.”
In 1961, the prospect of gridlock and the possibilities opened up by a new administration motivated a coalition of liberals and moderates to change the rules and clear a path that would, in just a few short years, allow Congress to pass some of the most important legislation in its history.
Today, liberals see the opportunity of the moment. But moderates don’t appear to be frustrated enough with gridlock and inaction to change the rules of the chamber. They seem to think they can negotiate Republicans out of their partisanship and win votes for policies — a $15 federal minimum wage, a new Voting Rights Act — that Republicans have already deemed unacceptable. And they seem to think that failure won’t matter, that Americans won’t notice how the Democratic Party campaigned on help and assistance but never delivered. Yes, without the filibuster to protect them, moderate members will have to take the occasional tough vote. But their constituents will probably care more about checks and vaccines than whether their senator voted with their more liberal colleagues.
At this point, American elections are almost completely nationalized. The broad, diverse coalition that is the Democratic Party will either rise or fall together. Even members with their own personal political appeal need the entire party to win if they are to wield any influence over government. If Manchin wants the government to spend $4 trillion on infrastructure, then he’ll need the Democratic Party to succeed in as many areas as it can.
The first step toward victory is a government that can act. So, sure, moderate Democrats can keep the filibuster if they want. But they should prepare for when the voting public decides it would rather have the party that promises nothing and does nothing than the one that promises quite a bit but won’t work to make any of it a reality.
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