Maybe it’s just me, but one of the few times I perked up in what I considered a forgettable debate last night was when Bernie Sanders started in with a detailed discussion of Senate procedure. The nation couldn’t care less about how the Senate conducts its business, but we’re simultaneously held hostage by it, because with the filibuster and its 60-vote threshold in place, legislative progress will be scant.
Sanders has said he does not support ending the legislative filibuster, and he reiterated that last night. This is a point of contrast to Elizabeth Warren, and a big one. But Sanders did say that he “will not wait for 60 votes” to pass Medicare for All, climate crisis legislation, or gun safety laws. He said there were a “variety of ways” to get this done, and he started with budget reconciliation. This is a once-a-year process whereby the Senate can pass budget-related items with a simple majority. But Sanders added this:
“You have a vice president who will, in fact, tell the Senate what is appropriate and what is not, what is in order and what is not.”
Allow me to translate from Senate to English. The budget reconciliation process includes something called the “Byrd rule,” named for longtime Democratic Senator Robert Byrd. Under this rule, everything in a reconciliation bill must be germane to the budget. This makes regulations on carbon emissions or an assault weapons ban typically “out of order.” The Senate parliamentarian, an obscure job, rules on what fits in reconciliation and what does not under the Byrd rule.
What Sanders is saying here is that his vice president, who serves as the president of the Senate, would overrule the parliamentarian, if he tried to rule an assault weapons ban or a health care or climate regulation out of order. This would allow anything, in theory, to go through reconciliation on a majority rule.
I say “in theory” because Mitch McConnell or some other Republican would certainly object to the ruling of the vice president, and there would have to be a vote on it, which would have to get 50 votes. So put aside that Sanders is saying he would kludge together all his policies into one bill every year, the only bill that gets a majority vote. It would still require a majority of the Senate to agree to this scheme.
That’s what I find so odd about the way the media addresses the filibuster. Whether Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren or Joe Biden supports ending the filibuster as president is rather less important than whether Joe Manchin or Chris Coons or Kyrsten Sinema supports it. You’d need their support, and I really don’t think Manchin is all that movable on something that would, say, enable a vote to cap carbon emissions. But at the least, he should be asked! Swing votes on Senate procedure are in the Senate, not the White House.
My pessimism on filibuster changes doesn’t mean there’s no hope for progress in a future Warren or Sanders administration—we’ll have much more on that at the Prospect in the weeks to come. It does mean that the pressure points should be identified correctly—and they weren’t on the debate stage last night.
LINKS TO MY STORIES
Congress could pass some health care bills this fall, and special interests are throwing money at stopping that from happening. (Read the story)
The Equifax settlement puts in another bait and switch. (Read the story)
Trump’s Justice Department seems to be trying to discredit all antitrust enforcement. (Read the story)
Elizabeth Warren proposes the biggest increase in Social Security benefits in 50 years. (Read the story)
The Warren plan would close a tax loophole that Joe Biden has used to shelter $13 million in earnings over the past two years. (Read the story)
I interviewed Gavin Hood, director of the terrific new film Official Secrets, about a whistleblower at the outset of the Iraq War. (Read the story)
ALSO AT THE PROSPECT
A Fall issue preview from former Rep. Brad Miller on William Barr’s bid for an imperial presidency.
Eileen Appelbaum and Rosemary Batt on private equity’s role in surprise health care billing.
Jonathan Guyer’s fiery takedown of the new Bari Weiss book on anti-Semitism.
Alan Greenblatt on democracy dying in North Carolina.
Alex Sammon on Uber’s announcement to reject the law.
Daily Kos interviewed me about private prisons, finance, and foreclosures. Watch here.
SHARING THE WEALTH
The House has none of the filibuster restrictions of the Senate, yet they’re backing off an assault weapons ban. Jeez. (NY Times)
Democrats also might block the Trump farm bailout, which seems like bad politics to me. (Washington Post)
Jeet Heer on the timidity of left-leaning think tanks. (The Nation)
Related: Alex Pareene on the death of ThinkProgress. (The New Republic)
The FTC is playing catch-up trying to understand Amazon’s business. (Bloomberg)
(Note: they could read the Prospect!)
I have no love for Amazon, but there’s a monopoly called Surescripts that manages prescription drug patient data, and it just ruined Amazon’s pharmacy business. (CNBC)
Meanwhile the states start an investigation into the tech platforms. (Politico)
The Supreme Court backing the Trump asylum rule is insane. (NY Times)
An ugly story about Kamala Harris prosecuting a mentally ill woman while DA of San Francisco. (CalMatters)
Trump considering a bailout for Iran? (Daily Beast)
Jon Schwarz obliterates Samantha Power’s memoir. (The Intercept)
Juul gave presentations in school to kids, while Trump preps a ban on flavored e-cigarettes. (Ars Technica)
Looks like Purdue Pharma will become a public benefit company in a tentative settlement. (NY Times)