Opinion

‘Barrier to Progress’? The ’50th Senator’ Who Always Puts Spoon of Tar in Dems’ Barrel of Honey

West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin’s voice has become pivotal for a series of measures pursued by the Democrat Party. He opposed killing the filibuster, refused to use reconciliation for Joe Biden’s $3 trillion infrastructure plan if the GOP is ignored and threw into question the passage of the Dems’ landmark voting and ethics bill in the Senate.

Republicans and Democrats have crossed swords over the HR 1/S 1 bill which was passed by the House earlier this month and has been discussed in the upper chamber since 24 March.

The bill, commonly known as the For the People Act, has come under heavy criticism from the GOP that sees it as a federal government takeover of the US elections and “one-party power grab”. In addition, the Republicans fear that HR 1/S 1 will leave the doors wide open for potential election fraud as it loosens voter verification rules, expands mail-in voting and legalises ballot harvesting nationally. The legislation was axed by GOP Senators in 2019 and reintroduced in January 2021 after the Democrats gained control in both chambers of the US Congress.

Still, Dems’ majority in the US Senate is razor thin: the upper chamber is split evenly which means that they need every Democrat vote and the tie-breaker of Vice-President Kamala Harris. This circumstance has made Joe Manchin’s vote extremely important.

HR 1/S 1: Dems’ Major Voting Rights Bill

Though endorsing a number of the S 1 For the People Act’s provisions, Democrat Senator Joe Manchin, former governor and secretary of the state of West Virginia, has indicated that the Dems’ landmark bill will go “nowhere” without Republican support in the Senate.

​”We must work toward a bipartisan solution that protects everyone’s right to vote, secures our elections from foreign interference and increases transparency in our campaign finance laws,” Manchin said in a statement last week. “Pushing through legislation of this magnitude on a partisan basis may garner short-term benefits but will inevitably only exacerbate the distrust that millions of Americans harbor against the US government.”

​Filibuster Might be Made More Painful But Can’t be Removed

Meanwhile, the tie-breaking trick works only if the measure considered in the Senate can be passed by a simple majority of votes, in other cases Dems need at least 60 votes to prevent lawmakers from filibustering the initiative.

The filibuster is a political procedure where lawmakers can delay or block the vote on a proposed piece of legislation by extending debate on it. Democrats are considering eradicating the tool despite Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell warning that killing the filibuster will “release furies” the Dems “can barely imagine”. For fairness’ sake, though Democrats have branded the filibuster a Jim Crow relic, they used it 327 times in 2020, according to Fox News’ John Roberts.

​However, the practice is unlikely to be killed since Manchin defended it saying that he would not be the 50th vote to nix it, much to his party colleagues displeasure. At the same time, he did not rule out making life “more painful” for those who resort to it.

No Reconciliation Tool if GOP Not Included in Discussion of $3 Trillion Bill

In addition to that, the senator is urging Democrat lawmakers to work together with the GOP on Joe Biden’s “Build Back Better” $3 trillion to 4 trillion proposal. In early March, Manchin pledged to block the president’s sweeping infrastructure and climate change proposal if Republicans weren’t included. Previously, Democrats used a reconciliation tool to pass the $1.9 trillion COVID relief package in the Senate by a simple majority of votes along party lines. This time, Manchin said that he wouldn’t vote for introducing reconciliation though supporting the infrastructure initiative as a whole.

“I’m not going to do it through reconciliation,” the senator told Axios on 7 March. “I am not going to get on a bill that cuts them out completely before we start.”

Meanwhile, the Republicans remain highly sceptical about Joe Biden’s new spending plan and accompanying tax hikes saying that it won’t get bipartisan support in the Senate.

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