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Opinion | Joe Manchin: I will not vote to eliminate or weaken the filibuster

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Joe Manchin III, a Democrat, represents West Virginia in the Senate.

When Americans vote to send their two senators to Washington, they trust that they will work to represent the interests of their state on equal footing with 98 other senators. I have always said, "If I can't go home and explain it, I can't vote for it." And I respect that each of my colleagues has the same responsibility to their constituents.

It's no accident that a state as small as West Virginia has the same number of senators as California or Texas. It goes to the heart of what representative government is all about. The Founding Fathers understood that the challenges facing a rural or small state would always be very different from a more populous state. Designating each state with the same number of senators — regardless of the population — ensured that rural and small states and the Americans who live in them would always have a seat at the table.

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The filibuster is a critical tool to protecting that input and our democratic form of government. That is why I have said it before and will say it again to remove any shred of doubt: There is no circumstance in which I will vote to eliminate or weaken the filibuster. The time has come to end these political games, and to usher a new era of bipartisanship where we find common ground on the major policy debates facing our nation.

Think about the recent history. In 2013, Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) led the charge to change Senate rules to eliminate the filibuster for Cabinet-level nominees and federal judges. I was one of only three Democratic senators to vote against this rule change. In 2017, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) proposed to lower the threshold to end debate on Supreme Court nominees to a simple majority. I voted against that change, too. Despite my votes, both rules changes were enacted and the filibuster was weakened, allowing the majority to more easily enact its agenda with little to no input from the minority.

Every time the Senate voted to weaken the filibuster in the past decade, the political dysfunction and gridlock have grown more severe. The political games playing out in the halls of Congress only fuel the hateful rhetoric and violence we see across our country right now. The truth is, my Democratic friends do not have all the answers and my Republican friends do not, either. This has always been the case.

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Generations of senators who came before us put their heads down and their pride aside to solve the complex issues facing our country. We must do the same. The issues facing our democracy today are not insurmountable if we choose to tackle them together.

Unfortunately, our leaders in the Senate fail to realize what goes around comes around. We should all be alarmed at how the budget reconciliation process is being used by both parties to stifle debate around the major issues facing our country today. Legislating was never supposed to be easy. It is hard work to address the needs of both rural and urban communities in a single piece of legislation, but it is the work we were elected to do.

I simply do not believe budget reconciliation should replace regular order in the Senate. How is that good for the future of this nation? Senate Democrats must avoid the temptation to abandon our Republican colleagues on important national issues. Republicans, however, have a responsibility to stop saying no, and participate in finding real compromise with Democrats.

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Working legislation through regular order in the Senate prevents drastic swings in federal policymaking. Voting rights reforms, instituting health-care protections and changes to the federal tax code and business regulations take time to implement on the state and local levels. If the filibuster is eliminated or budget reconciliation becomes the norm, a new and dangerous precedent will be set to pass sweeping, partisan legislation that changes the direction of our nation every time there is a change in political control. The consequences will be profound — our nation may never see stable governing again.

Senators introduce bipartisan bills that seek to invest in broadband infrastructure, tax incentives to spur manufacturing investments in rural communities, reform the Department of Veterans Affairs, protect our children from harm and more.

There is also bipartisan support for voting reform and many of the initiatives outlined in the For the People Act. Our ultimate goal should be to restore bipartisan faith in our voting process by assuring all Americans that their votes will be counted, secured and protected. Efforts to expand voting hours and access, improve our election security and increase transparency in campaign finance and advertisement rules should and do have broad, bipartisan support and would quickly address the needs facing Americans today. Taking bipartisan action on voting reform would go a long way in restoring the American people's faith in Congress and our ability to deliver results for them.

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We will not solve our nation's problems in one Congress if we seek only partisan solutions. Instead of fixating on eliminating the filibuster or shortcutting the legislative process through budget reconciliation, it is time we do our jobs.

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