Commentary

The myth of bipartisan necessity

January 21, 2022 5:59 am

U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema. (Photo by Gage Skidmore | Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0)

The moves by Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona to quash President Biden’s major policy initiatives on voting rights, climate change and social programs will not be judged favorably by history.

Why?

Because both senators are relying on the outworn and largely mythical belief that bipartisan cooperation is mandatory in order to make good laws or spend taxpayer money wisely.

According to the two delusional Democrats, they will not vote to get rid of, even temporarily, the Senate’s ridiculous requirement that normal legislation must have the approval — and votes — of 60 of the chamber’s 100 members to advance. For those who have always been taught “majority rules” in our democracy, the Senate’s nonsensical rule to require a super majority to pass most legislation is baffling. What makes the Senate so special that “majority rules” doesn’t apply to these oh so self-important politicians?

The truth is there’s no mention of any 60-vote requirement anywhere in the Constitution, nor any requirement for “bipartisan support.” No surprise that, since way back when our Constitution was drafted the idea that somehow our democracy would be governed by only two major political parties — and that they had to have supporting votes from both parties to advance legislation — was unfathomable and unworkable.

Yet, here we are during the week in which we had the national holiday honoring civil rights icon Martin Luther King and the voting rights he fought so hard to achieve are on the chopping block, largely thanks to efforts by Republican governors and legislators who, for some strange reason, think that if more people get to vote they will lose elections.

To say their efforts to deny Americans the right to vote undermine the very foundations of our democracy is not an overstatement. Yet, despite voting rights legislation already passed in the House and awaiting introduction in the Senate, Manchin and Sinema continue to blather on about the necessity for bipartisan support.

It might not be too much of a stretch to ask these soap-box senators if they can point out any calls from the Republicans, when they’re in the majority, to halt their legislation unless they get Democratic support. Of course that won’t happen because it doesn’t exist.

Anyone who has watched or participated actively in the legislative process will tell you this one simple truth: When Republicans are in the majority they roll — and if the Democrats don’t like it, they roll over them without hesitation. Remember all those judges the Republican senate majority confirmed during Trump’s term? They had no problem dropping the filibuster’s 60-vote rule to stack the benches.

In our current hyperpartisan political atmosphere, the Republicans could care less about Democratic support, in fact they take joy in “making the libs cry again.” Admittedly that’s a bizarre attitude in the nation’s highest public policy arena, but it’s very real. The only mystery is why Sinema and Manchin refuse to admit the obvious — and realize the undeniable necessity of change and the tremendous downside to their ongoing and baseless resistance.

Moreover, just because legislation gets bipartisan support has little to do with good policy. For example, the recently-passed $778 billion “defense” appropriation act consumes half of the nation’s discretionary spending. The enormous expense isn’t even marginally justified — but it had nearly unanimous bipartisan support.

Manchin’s and Sinema’s defense of the Senate’s filibuster and 60-vote mandate has no foundation in the Constitution, it’s only a “rule” made by the Senate itself. That necessary legislation cannot move forward without “bipartisan support” has long outlived its purpose — and make no mistake, circumstances now dictate that we leave it in the past.

George Ochenski writes from Helena. 

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