I was heartened to see the pandemic relief bill recently signed into law. Although the $1.9 trillion cost seems high, the problems it is meant to address are of the same order of magnitude.
Similarly, I was happy to hear about the coming $2.25 trillion infrastructure bill. There is no doubt New Mexico could use a few roads and bridges fixed. But we are also in dire need of expanded broadband coverage, more diversified energy sources, better public transportation and many other items that improve the movement of not only people and goods, but information as well. This bill is meant to make up for years or decades of neglect. Again, the price tag is not surprising and in fact may be insufficient to complete all of its objectives. But it certainly would be a great start.
To say these two pieces of legislation are significant and will have a positive effect on our state and nation for years to come is a major understatement. Note that not a single House or Senate Republican cast a vote in favor of the relief package, and none is anticipated to vote for the infrastructure bill. As a result, the key to passing both bills is the use of the Senate budget reconciliation process, thus avoiding a filibuster.
The ability of the Senate minority party to stop legislation with just the threat of a filibuster is the perfect formula for gridlock. Mitch McConnell is now Senate minority leader and has threatened the use of the filibuster to halt any further Democratic initiatives. This amounts to tyranny of the minority and cannot be allowed to continue. The Senate has been broken for too long, and the country desperately needs a Congress that can get things done.
This is particularly critical when it comes to what may be the most important piece of legislation since the Voting Rights Act of 1965, known as H.R. 1, the For the People Act. Unlike the two other major pieces of legislation, H.R. 1 cannot be passed using the budget reconciliation process. As such, it is subject to the Senate filibuster and would require at least 10 Republicans to agree to bring it to a vote. It is more than clear that will not happen. The same can be said of any bill the administration will propose that cannot be done through budget reconciliation, a limited tool at best.
To break the gridlock, the filibuster needs to be eliminated or modified. It is unlikely in the present political climate it can be completely eliminated. But a modification may be all that is needed to get the gears of government moving.
The best remaining remedy that has a chance of passing is to return the filibuster to what it was — a “talking” filibuster, where a senator must hold the floor and talk until he can no longer do so. History shows that under the old rules, filibusters were few and far between. Bills can then be passed with simple majorities instead of needing 60-vote supermajorities. And the minority would have an opportunity to be heard and perhaps change some minds. It would delay passage of some bills but not stop them from going to a floor vote as the existing rule has effectively done.
If we want our government to work, we must have a Senate that is able to function regardless of which party is in the majority. It is too important to American democracy to ignore.