- On Monday Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell dropped his fight over the filibuster.
- Democrats claimed his move as a win, and the two sides are moving forward with a power-sharing deal.
- But the party can’t celebrate quite yet with a political battle over Biden’s coronavirus stimulus package on the horizon.
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Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s weeklong fight over the filibuster is over — but another, larger battle over President Joe Biden’s legislative agenda looms on the horizon.
The two Senate leaders are currently finalizing an agreement to reorganize the Senate, now split evenly 50-50, and to begin work under the new administration after Democrats took the majority last Wednesday.
Who won, and who lost
Both sides, perhaps unsurprisingly, have declared themselves winners in the filibuster feud.
After being relegated to minority leader, McConnell had pressed Schumer to promise to preserve the filibuster, a legislative tool that Senate Republicans can use to delay or block bills brought forth by Democrats unless a 60-vote threshold is met. Considering the slim majorities in the Senate, that means legislation needs support from all Democrats and at least 10 Republicans in order to get to the president’s desk.
McConnell’s plea came in response to mounting calls from the Democratic Party’s progressive wing to end the filibuster and pass legislation with a simple majority.
The Kentucky Republican had asked Schumer to provide him with a written pledge not to touch the filibuster, though he dropped the demand after two Democratic senators, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, assured him they have no intentions to kill the filibuster.
“Basic arithmetic now ensures that there are not enough votes to break the rule,” McConnell said Tuesday. “This victory will let us move forward with a 50-50 power-sharing agreement.”
Schumer, on the other hand, said McConnell’s move was a win for Democrats because he had not met the minority leader’s demand. The New York Democrat said the party is now able to assume proper control of the Senate and get to work on Biden’s promises.
“I’m glad the Republican leader finally relented and we can move forward now to organize the Senate, set up committees, chairs and ranking members, and a process for moving bills and nominees to the floor,” Schumer said Tuesday. “I’m glad we’re finally able to get the Senate up and running. My only regret is that it took so long because we have a great deal we need to accomplish over the next several weeks and months.”
For his part, Biden hasn’t said he wants to eliminate the filibuster and has long been a advocate of the tactic. But he’s been clear that his support for keeping it intact depends on “how obstreperous” Republicans become during his term.
What the fight means for the next stimulus
The partisan fight over the filibuster put the Senate on pause and prevented Democrats from bringing Biden’s key priorities, including his proposed $1.9 trillion coronavirus stimulus package, to the negotiating table.
The relief bill is facing trouble, and the next round of stimulus might not pass until March unless both parties work together to reach a deal sooner.
Some Republicans have said they don’t see a point in another massive stimulus deal right now after the $900 billion bill passed in December.
“Maybe a couple of months from now, the needs will be evident and we will need to do something significant, but I’m not seeing it right now,” GOP Sen. Susan Collins of Maine told Insider last week.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont who caucuses with Democrats, has suggested using a tool called budget reconciliation to bypass the 60-vote filibuster requirement and push through legislation with a simple majority of 51. Vice President Kamala Harris would be the tie-breaking vote.
There are roadblocks, however, to using budget reconciliation or any other maneuver to pass legislation without Republican participation. McConnell on Tuesday warned that if the filibuster is overridden, his party will reverse every Democratic policy whenever they take back Congress.
“If this majority went scorched-earth, this body would grind to a halt like we’ve never seen,” he said. “Taking that plunge would not be some progressive dream. It would be a nightmare. I guarantee it.”
If Democrats decide to heed McConnell’s ultimatums, they must then work with Republicans to deliver economic relief to Americans. That scenario would likely result in stripping key elements from the bill to meet the GOP’s demands.
Democrats could instead use their majority to carry out their priorities and skip working with Republicans altogether, but only if the party is able to agree on an agenda. With the Democratic caucus consisting of moderates such as Manchin and Sinema alongside progressives like Sanders, achieving that goal could be a challenge.