Progressive groups note that the existing system lets the Senate minority 'nullify the results of the election and block progress on popular legislation.'
A coalition of 62 progressive groups last week called for the end of the legislative filibuster in the U.S. Senate. A review of top Democratic priorities suggests that with the filibuster still in place, few are likely to become law — even with Democrats holding majorities in both chambers of Congress.
The letter, spearheaded by a campaign called Fix Our Senate, urges Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and his new Democratic majority to change "the rules of the United States Senate that allow a partisan minority to block legislation and will prevent the Senate from governing and delivering on the promises they made to voters if they are left in place."
The groups note that the existing system, which requires a 60-vote supermajority to end debate on nearly all legislation, lets Minority Leader Mitch McConnell "nullify the results of the election and block progress on popular legislation supported by a majority of senators and a majority of the American people."
In the 2018 midterms, a "blue wave" gave Democrats a majority in the House of Representatives, but left Republicans in control of the Senate. As House Democrats passed hundreds of bills, McConnell (R-KY) simply refused to bring them up for consideration.
This meant that popular reforms intended to address corruption in government, curb gun violence, lower prescription drug costs, raise the minimum wage, and protect LGBTQ Americans and immigrants died without ever getting a Senate vote. McConnell bragged that he was the "Grim Reaper," ensuring the death of all progressive legislation as long as he was in charge.
Democrats focused on those reforms in their campaigns during the 2020 election and won, taking back the White House, keeping a majority in the House, and winning a narrow 51-to-50 advantage in the Senate. But McConnell has indicated that he and the Republican minority intend to continue to block progressive action by means of the filibuster.
Ending the filibuster would require unanimous support from Senate Democrats. If the filibuster remains in place, here are 10 key priorities that are unlikely to become law, even if a majority of elected lawmakers back them.
In the last Congress, the House passed the American Dream and Promise Act by a vote of 237 to 187. The bill's "Dream Act" provisions would have provided legal protections and a pathway to citizenship for hundreds of thousands of immigrants brought to the country as kids by undocumented parents.
Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin said last week that "passing the Dream Act is still my highest legislative priority." While previous versions of the bill have attracted a few Senate GOP co-sponsors and votes, the number of current Republicans who have backed the idea is well short of the 10 that would be needed for a 60 vote supermajority.
Comprehensive immigration reform
In 2013, Senate Democrats and a group of Republicans enacted a comprehensive immigration reform bill that would have improved border security and created a path to citizenship for law-abiding undocumented immigrants. It passed by a bipartisan majority of 68 to 32, but died in the GOP-controlled House.
Eight years later, most Republican legislators have adopted Donald Trump's hard-line anti-immigrant views. Just a handful of GOP senators who voted for the 2013 bill are still in the Senate, and one of those — co-author Marco Rubio of Florida — subsequently flipped against his own bill.
The House passed the Equality Act, a bill to add explicit protections for LGBTQ Americans to existing civil rights laws, in December 2019. But the Senate version, blocked by McConnell, attracted just one Republican co-sponsor, Susan Collins of Maine.
An earlier, less expansive LGBTQ nondiscrimination proposal passed the Senate in 2013, but just four Republicans currently serving voted in favor: Collins, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Rob Portman of Ohio, and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania.
The House passed the For the People Act in March 2019 to change elections and campaign finance rules to fight corruption and protect voting rights.
Universal background checks
The House passed the Bipartisan Background Checks Act in February 2019. It would have closed the gun-show loophole that allows many people to avoid undergoing a background check prior to purchasing a firearm.
No Republicans co-sponsored companion legislation in the Senate, and a 2013 compromise proposal offered by Toomey and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) was backed by just two current Senate Republicans, Toomey and Collins.
Lower prescription drug costs
In December 2019, the House passed the Elijah E. Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act, which would have reduced prescription drug costs by allowing bulk purchasing by the federal government.
No Republicans co-sponsored the Senate companion bill.
Last December, the House voted to pass the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act, which would have decriminalized cannabis under federal law.
A Senate version did not attract a single GOP co-sponsor.
Statehood for Washington, D.C.
In June 2016, the House passed the Washington, D.C. Admission Act to make residential portions of the nation's capital the 51st state.
Raising the minimum wage
The House voted to pass the Raise the Wage Act in July 2019, supporting a gradual increase in the federal minimum wage over seven years, up to $15 an hour.
No Senate Republicans have co-sponsored similar legislation.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.