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Biden agenda hits roadblock as Manchin, Sinema affirm support for preserving filibuster

A 60-vote supermajority is needed overcome a legislative filibuster.

Published: April 8, 2021 4:02pm

Updated: April 8, 2021 10:49pm

President Joe Biden's legislative agenda has hit a major roadblock in the 50-50 Senate, as moderate Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema have emerged as unequivocal opponents of eliminating the legislative filibuster.

"The filibuster is a critical tool to protecting" the voice of small and rural states "and our democratic form of government," Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, wrote in an April 7 Washington Post op-ed. "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."

Sinema, an Arizona Democrat, has taken a similar approach to preserving the legislative-minority-friendly tool. 

"When you have a place that's broken and not working, and many would say that's the Senate today, I don't think the solution is to erode the rules," Sinema told the Wall Street Journal. "I think the solution is for senators to change their behavior and begin to work together, which is what the country wants us to do."

A 60-vote threshold is needed to overcome a legislative filibuster. In the past, both Senate Democrats and Republicans have used the filibuster as the minority party to block legislation supported by the majority party. 

Leaving the filibuster in place in a 50-50 Senate would make it virtually impossible for Biden to move key parts of his agenda through Congress. The filibuster, however, would likely not stop Biden's $2 trillion American Jobs Plan, given the Senate parliamentarian's recent ruling that the massive infrastructure package may be considered under budget reconciliation rules, which permit the passage of legislation with a simple majority vote.

Biden has proposed a comprehensive immigration overhaul that would offer a path to citizenship for millions of immigrants living illegally in the U.S. He also supports the sweeping election reform bill called the For the People Act, which the Democratic-led House passed recently.

Biden has called on Congress to pass an assault weapons ban as part of his gun control agenda. 

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said she would like to see a government-run public option added to Obamacare, which is a proposal that Biden made part of his 2020 presidential campaign.

The House is voting on statehood for Washington D.C. during the week of April 19. It faces an uphill climb in the Democratic-led Senate due to the filibuster. 

Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer have said the use of budget reconciliation is on the table if Republicans in Congress do not join Democrats to pass Biden's American Jobs Plan, which includes significant federal spending on improving the nation's infrastructure. Democrats haven't drafted the formal legislative language of Biden's plan yet.

Biden has said he plans to release a separate proposal, the American Family Plan, to follow the American Jobs Plan. Details have not been disclosed publicly. Pelosi was asked Thursday if she thinks the family plan and jobs plan will be rolled into one bill. She said there would likely be two pieces of legislation and she hopes the legislative process on infrastructure in the House will be completed by July 4. She said Democrats want to finish the "whole package" by August.

"I think we will have two bills," Pelosi said. "We have this bill that we hope we can do, especially, the infrastructure bill. It has always been bipartisan. We will do so in a bipartisan way. If we have to go to reconciliation, that is a lever, but I hope it is not something we need to do." 

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