Joe Biden hailed a “historic victory” with the passage of his colossal stimulus package this week in Congress. But behind this democratic success, several laws emblematic of his program now risk dying in the Senate, for lack of a sufficient majority.
“The legislative cemetery is over,” promised Democratic senator leader Chuck Schumer on Thursday, referring to years of blocking Democratic projects by the former Republican majority in the upper house.
Less than two months after taking the reins of his new, very narrow majority, the senator from New York is already nicknamed the “cemetery keeper”.
With 50 Democrats against 50 Republicans since January 20, his group can count on the voice of Vice President Kamala Harris to decide the votes requiring only a simple majority.
For most of the major laws that Joe Biden wants, Democrats need 60 votes, however, if they are to avoid the famous “filibuster”, a term of piracy which designates a type of parliamentary obstruction.
Limits on the purchase of firearms, police reform, anti-discrimination law, strengthening of voter turnout and union rights: Democrat-controlled House of Representatives has already approved a flurry of bills at the heart of the Biden program.
For now, they all appear “stillborn” in the Senate.
Certainly, there remains a hope of compromise on a reform of the police force or the weapons. But in a deeply divided Congress, the prospect of ten Republican senators rallying to projects already approved by the Democratic House seems highly unlikely.
The “filibuster” in question
If he again promised Thursday not to let the texts die in the Senate, Chuck Schumer made the confession Thursday, in watermark, of his current impotence by speaking of a text voted in the morning in the House to frame more strictly the sale of weapons.
This project “will be put to a vote in the Senate,” he said. “Maybe we will have enough votes,” he continued without much conviction. “And if not, we will come together in the (Democrat) group and see how to move forward.”
The Democrat is only too aware of the great obstacle that threatens the approval of the laws wanted by Joe Biden: the “filibuster” and the fierce opposition of two conservative Democrats to the elimination of this controversial rule.
“Never! But damn it, what the hell do you not understand with “Never”, “recently asked reporters, who asked him again if he was ready to get rid of Joe Manchin, elected West Virginia.
With him, the Democratic senator of Arizona Kyrsten Sinema also displayed his opposition. Both judging that she pushes in search of compromise.
“In the face”
For a long time, the US Senate did not impose a limit on the length of debates. An option sometimes seized by parliamentarians to make the procedure last and prevent a final vote from being reached. This is the “filibuster”.
Since 1917, a procedural vote has made it possible to close the debate, provided that enough votes are gathered. Today: 60 senators.
In 2013, the Democrats had however opted for a “nuclear option”, so nicknamed as it breaks with tradition: lowering the bar of 60 votes to 51 when it comes to candidates for the president’s office and most judicial appointments .
In 2017, the Republicans in turn triggered the nuclear option to also lower the threshold to 51 votes for life appointments to the Supreme Court, causing an uproar among Democrats.
But the 60-vote limit remains in effect for most bills. And if the Democrats managed to get around it to pass Joe Biden’s economic stimulus package, it was thanks to an exception valid only for budget laws.
Even if the “filibuster” may hinder his mandate, Joe Biden is not in favor of his elimination, the Maison-Banche reiterated on Monday. Why? The former senator for more than 35 years likes to recall his desire to seek common ground with the Republicans.
On the same line, Joe Manchin issued a warning to the Democrats, who could well see the Republicans seize, after the parliamentary elections of 2022, a Senate then rid of the “filibuster”.
“Whatever you do today because you think you can do it,” he told the newspaper this week. The Hill, “It will come right back to you”.