Democracy depends on Senate Democrats

This week, Senate Democrats have pivoted from President Biden’s Build Back Better Act to focusing solely on passing two critical pieces of voting rights legislation: the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.

Unlike with the Build Back Better Act, both bills have support from all 50 Senate Democrats. Unfortunately, in a Senate that is held hostage by the legislative filibuster, that’s not enough to pass these bills. Getting 10 supporting Republican votes is all but impossible, so leading Democrats are now, at long last, directly challenging the filibuster.

It’s about time. Senate Democrats are well aware that their party is facing an existential threat in upcoming elections that are sure to be marred by voter suppression at best, with outright election theft a distinct possibility. Without a comprehensive voting rights package, they have no chance, so they’re preparing to deploy their “nuclear option” strategy.

This strategy would involve changing the filibuster itself so that Democrats would only need a simple majority (only 50 members) to pass the two voting rights bills. With the midterms rapidly approaching, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has eyed January 17, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, as the deadline to get these rule changes passed.

The filibuster is an absurd piece of procedural nonsense that has held up important legislation in the Senate for too long, and there is no better issue to break it than this one. Our democracy needs reforming, or the entire country will suffer.

Political power and economic power go hand in hand in the United States. They reinforce each other in a vicious cycle. Wealthy individuals constantly use their money to try to dominate the political system and, once they are able to gain a foothold on power, they influence laws, rules, and regulations to their exact stipulations. Allowing the players to write their own rules isn’t just unfair: it’s antithetical for any healthy democracy.

The lack of influence everyday Americans have in their own government has led to a disconnect between what Americans want from their government and what they receive. Most Americans want a higher minimum wage and a more robust social safety net. They want stronger unions. They want to fundamentally change the tax code to make the wealthy and corporations pay their fair share by doing things like eliminating the carried interest loophole, instituting a net wealth tax, and raising marginal rates. So why haven’t they gotten these things from Congress and Capitol Hill?

Because, quite simply, rich people run the show in America. And if they don’t want it, it won’t happen.

Studies have shown time and again that the average American exerts virtually no influence whatsoever on policy outcomes; instead, policy changes are extremely responsive to the wishes and preferences of the wealthy and corporations. In the end, the sad fact of the matter is that rich people, or at least those who dominate the political system in America today, don’t care about democracy. So long as they get what they want and their bottom lines are protected, it doesn’t matter to them whether the general public is disenfranchised.

We live in an anti-democratic plutocracy where the rich have an outsized voice when it comes to deciding what happens in government compared to everyone else. But here’s the thing – with the way things have been shaping up, there’s potential for it to get a whole lot worse in the coming years. 

GOP state legislatures across the country are passing bills left and right making it harder for working people to vote and fully participate in the political process. Republicans see that the electorate in America is changing – it’s getting younger, more diverse, more urban, and less attracted to their messaging. So the only way that they can retain power is to steal it by rigging elections and thwarting the will of the public. Wealthy political donors are fine with these antics because as long as they continue to bankroll the campaigns of GOP operatives, they will get their way when it comes to the legislation that keeps them rich.

This is why it is absolutely imperative that Democrats use the political opportunity that they have now, with simultaneous control of the House, Senate, and White House, to safeguard our elections by passing the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. If they need to change the filibuster to pass them, so be it.

Both bills have support from all 50 Senate Democrats but not all of them are on board with current plans to change the filibuster, with West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin and Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema being the two classic holdouts (and a few of their colleagues wavering between yes and no). Democrats must get the two on board before January 17 and before the window of opportunity closes with the 2022 and 2024 elections. The fate of American democracy depends on it.

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