Democrats’ new plan for passing more bills with 51 votes, explained

“the Senate can’t pass an unlimited number of reconciliation bills; typically Congress passes one per year. Given a legislative backlog in 2020, Democrats were on track to do two reconciliation bills in the near term — one addressing the budget of the 2021 fiscal year, and one for the budget of the 2022 fiscal year.

According to a Schumer aide, his team is now trying to make the case that Democrats would be able to pass up to three budget reconciliation bills this year. In arguments to the Senate parliamentarian, an in-house procedural expert, aides are pushing for a third bill by citing an arcane rule that hasn’t been used before.”

“Whether Democrats are ultimately able to do this is heavily dependent on the parliamentarian”

Liberals warn Biden against lengthy talks with GOP

“Liberals are wary that the GOP may be trying to prolong infrastructure talks for weeks or even months, potentially setting back Democrats’ ambitious agenda as Biden goes back and forth with the opposition party over how big to go and when. But several prominent progressives also want to keep giving Biden room to try with Republicans — up to a still-undetermined point.
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At the moment, the two sides seem very far apart: Biden’s initial infrastructure spending pitch was more than $2 trillion, with a second part of the plan still in development. And several Democrats said Monday they seriously doubt that discussions with the GOP will produce anything at all.

Republicans have not indicated they would be willing to spend anything more than $800 billion — a paltry sum for Democrats — and even that might be a stretch. And while liberals in Congress aren’t yet asking Biden to ditch the talks altogether, they are clearly signaling that his patience, like theirs, should be finite.”

Democrats Are Split Over How Much The Party And American Democracy Itself Are In Danger

“Here’s the Democratic nightmare: Biden and congressional Democrats pass a few major bills over the next two years but leave the filibuster in place, preventing the passage of major reforms to America’s electoral system. A federal judiciary stacked with Trump appointees strikes down all or parts of many of the laws the Democrats do pass as well as many of Biden’s executive actions, leaving Democrats few permanent policy victories and driving down the president’s approval ratings.

Meanwhile, Republicans use their control of most state legislatures to draw state legislative and U.S. House district lines in ways that are even more favorable to the GOP than the current ones and enact laws that make it harder for liberal-leaning voting blocs to cast ballots. Combine gerrymandering, voting limitations, lackluster poll numbers for Biden and the historic trend of voters rejecting the party of the incumbent president in a midterm election, and it results in the Republicans winning control of the House and the Senate and making even more gains at the state legislative level in November 2022.

Post-2022, Republicans in Congress block everything Biden tries to do, further driving down his approval ratings. Meanwhile, Republicans use their enhanced power at the state level to continue to adopt laws that make it harder for people in liberal-leaning constituencies to vote and harder for Democrats to win in swing states. Then, these laws are upheld by lower courts and a U.S. Supreme Court still packed with Trump appointees. In 2024, Biden (or whomever the Democrats nominate) wins the popular vote but still loses the Electoral College — in part because Republicans have limited Democratic votes in some swing states. A GOP with control of the White House, Senate, House and most state governments in 2025 then effectively creates a system of “minority rule” in which Republicans can keep control of America’s government for decades even if the majority of voters favor Democrats as well as liberal and left-of-center policies.

In this scenario, the Democratic Party is in peril, but in some ways so is American democracy more broadly. So to this camp, Democrats must act aggressively and quickly over the next two years to forestall this outcome, by getting rid of the filibuster as it currently operates (most legislation requires 60 votes to pass in the Senate) and enacting an aggressive “democracy agenda.” This is a pro-democratic (small “d”) agenda in many ways, particularly in giving residents of Washington, D.C., representation in Congress and enhancing protections of the right to vote for Black Americans who live in GOP-dominated states. But it’s also clearly a pro-Democratic agenda (big “D”) in that it would, for example, add the two senators from D.C., who would almost certainly be Democrats.

Pfeiffer describes whether the Democrats get rid of the filibuster in the next two years as “the decision that will decide the next decade.” He argues that keeping the filibuster may be effectively “a decision to return to the minority and stay there for at least a decade.”

“The door is closing quickly in terms of us staying a functioning democracy. We have no time to waste,” said Meagan Hatcher-Mays, director of democracy policy at Indivisible. “Democrats have been handed this power to save it. We don’t have two years. We have a year. The window to actually get things done is really closer to 10 months.””

“Democrats would need every Democratic senator on board to get rid of the filibuster, so these members are super-important. And over the last few months, Manchin and Sinema have said they are strongly opposed to getting rid of the filibuster. Longtime senators like Feinstein have hinted in the past that they are wary of such a move too.

Part of this opposition to getting rid of the filibuster reflects ideological differences — Manchin in particular is more conservative than most (if not all) congressional Democrats. So he probably isn’t dying to get rid of the filibuster to vote for a $15 federal minimum wage, for example, because it’s not clear he favors that idea anyway.

But this bloc also disagrees with the this-is-an-emergency camp about the state of American politics right now. Feinstein is fairly liberal on policy issues. But she, like Manchin and Sinema, has suggested she wants to work in a Senate that is not hyperpartisan and seems to believe that is possible. In the view of people in this camp, the Republican Party is not completely dominated by an anti-democratic wing that won’t work with Democrats. So members in this camp view getting rid of the filibuster and other more aggressive moves as not only unnecessary but potentially really bad — making the Senate and Washington overall even more gridlocked and polarized than they already are.”

What Democrats can (realistically) do about gun violence

“There are some evidence-based approaches policymakers could take:

1) Improve the physical spaces that people live around. In many US towns and cities, there are vacant or blighted lots. But what if these neglected spaces were cleaned, greened, and maintained?

A 2018 randomized controlled trial in PNAS found that doing this in Philadelphia reduced crime, violence, and fears of both — without displacing these problems to neighboring communities. The effects were at times huge: Gun assaults decreased by more than 29 percent in impoverished neighborhoods with restored lots.

Experts have several possible theories for why this works, from getting more people in the area (most shooters don’t want to commit crimes around witnesses) to removing a space where would-be shooters could stash guns. Whatever the explanation, it’s a promising approach.

2) Make young hands less idle. A disproportionate amount of gun violence is committed by young people, especially boys and men. One way to stop that is by occupying boys and young men with other things, like school or work.

There’s good evidence for this. A recent study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that New York City youth placed into summer job programs through a lottery were less likely to get caught in crimes, particularly youth with previous interaction with the criminal justice system. Another study, published in the American Economic Journal, found that keeping kids in school longer — by, say, raising the age or grade to legally drop out — likely cuts down on criminal activity.

3) Addressing drug misuse. Drugs, including (and particularly) alcohol, can contribute to violent crime, whether it’s by inhibiting people’s judgment, leading them to commit crimes to obtain money for drugs, or fueling illegal drug markets.

A 2020 report from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice highlighted several areas where policymakers could act to reduce problems with drugs. They could limit alcohol sales at a given time or place. They could raise the alcohol tax (though that would be politically contentious). They could support evidence-based addiction treatment, perhaps through public health programs like Medicaid. Overall, the idea is to limit both supply and demand.

All of the approaches above could fit into the “Build Back Better” infrastructure bill that Democrats are working on — whether as explicit infrastructure projects (in the case of greening vacant lots) or through incentives for localities or states to adopt certain policies (like discouraging zoning laws that allow excessive alcohol outlets in an area).

These are just some examples of what lawmakers could do.”

“There are many ways to act on gun violence beyond the policy solutions that typically get a lot of media attention. Whether Democrats take up those alternatives remains to be seen.”

What Democrats Can Learn From Nebraska’s Shift To The Right

“in 1989, I entered a world where Nebraska straddled the middle of the political spectrum. But since then, the state has drifted so far from the center it’s hard to remember it was ever there. Using DW-NOMINATE data from the congressional vote tallying website Voteview, we can see just how far Nebraska’s political representatives have drifted rightward in the last thirty years. As you can see in the chart below, the average ideology score of Nebraska’s U.S. representatives and senators, as measured by DW-NOMINATE’s first dimension, shifted more than half a point between 1990 and 2020.1 Put in today’s terms, in 1990, the average Nebraskan in Congress was similar in ideology to outgoing Democratic Sen. Doug Jones of Alabama, a moderate; whereas today she would more closely resemble Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn, who isn’t the most conservative Republican in Congress (that’s Sen. Mike Lee), but still drifts pretty far to the right on the ideological spectrum.”

“the Electoral College has always favored smaller states like Nebraska. But it is only somewhat recently that these states have heavily favored Republicans.”

“So what’s driving Nebraska’s (and other states’) rightward shift? In part, it has to do with the nationalization of American politics. Since the 1990s, Democratic voters have moved to the left on issues such as health care and immigration, while Republicans have become more likely to identify as conservative as their moderate candidates have dwindled. And in turn, this nationalization and polarization has made it more difficult for local candidates to successfully create their own platforms. For example, as governor and senator, Nelson often broke from his own party in an attempt to attract conservative voters, taking stances like advocating for a “hard barrier” to prevent illegal immigration or supporting various anti-abortion measures. But the days of candidates creating their own platforms are largely over, and the share of registered Democratic voters in Nebraska has also dropped.”

“This trend extends to lower levels of government, too, like the state legislature and city councils. Republican state lawmakers have also tried to eliminate prenatal care and repeal in-state tuition for immigrants, while giving local police the power to question the immigration status of anyone they suspect of living in the country illegally. A few towns have even passed ordinances that formally ban undocumented immigrants from renting property. All this is happening in a state that, until recently, settled a high number of refugees.

Meanwhile, on the education front, Republican lawmakers have leaned into national Republicans’ growing aversion toward public education, trying to eliminate Nebraska’s democratically elected board of education, while perpetual tax cuts and exemptions have led to two-thirds of Nebraska’s school districts receiving no general financial assistance from the state, which has contributed to public schools in rural Nebraska having “the most inequitable [state aid] distribution in the nation,” according to a nationwide study by the think tank, The Rural School and Community Trust. This is all in a state where Republicans once implemented income and sales taxes to increase K-12 schools’ funding, among a host of other progressive legislation.

But lest one think the effects of nationalization have completely remade states like Nebraska, many Nebraskans disagree with the GOP’s positions. Through ballot initiatives, for instance, Nebraska voters have approved a higher minimum wage, Medicaid expansion and casino gambling, even though Republicans officials, who continue to cruise to statewide victories, have opposed these measures.”

““If you ask people to vote for things that might be in their own interest, and you explain the issue to them in one paragraph on the ballot, they will vote for the thing that is good for them,” said Ari Kohen, a professor of political science at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. “But you can’t ask them to give up their party affiliation.”

People are reluctant to switch parties, but they can be swayed to change their mind about a specific cause, particularly when an issue is presented outside of a partisan context. State Sen. Tony Vargas, a Democrat in Omaha, told me that he thought Medicaid expansion passed — even though Nelson encountered a brouhaha over a similar issue just eight years prior— because it wasn’t tied to a particular politician or party. “If our ballot said ‘expanding Obamacare,’ I feel like people would have voted against it,” Vargas said. “Instead, we said ‘expanding Medicaid and addressing the gap.’ … It’s a lot harder to attack the issue. It’s much easier to attack the person.””

How Georgia Turned Blue

“how did Georgia go from light red to blue — or at the very least, purple?

The answer is pretty simple: The Atlanta area turned really blue in the Trump era. Definitions differ about the exact parameters of the Atlanta metropolitan area, but 10 counties1 are part of a governing collaborative called the Atlanta Regional Commission. Almost 4.7 million people live in those 10 counties, or around 45 percent of the state’s population.

Until very recently, the Atlanta area wasn’t a liberal bastion. There was a Democratic bloc that long controlled the government within the city limits of Atlanta and a Republican bloc that once dominated the suburbs”

“suburban Atlanta is trending blue”

Democratic Party Platform Calls for End to Drug War, But Not Really

“Instead of actually ending the drug war, the 2020 platform’s emphasis takes the same approach as the 2016 platform in calling for the expanded use of drug courts and diversion programs “for those struggling with substance use disorders.””

“Drug courts, in practice, have been shown that they do not reduce policing encounters; some evidence supports the idea that they reduce incarceration rates or recidivism. A 2018 report from the Social Science Research Council (SSRC) analyzed drug court systems in the United States, the Caribbean, and Latin America, and found many cases where drug courts actually increased, rather than reduced, a drug users’ interactions with police and the criminal justice system. The SSRC analysis of five years of New York City drug courts determined that sentences for those who “failed” drug court were two-to-five times longer than those who just accepted a conventional sentence for drug possession. In other words, they would have been better off just pleading guilty.”

“The Democrats say they don’t want to see people incarcerated “solely for using drugs,” but that’s what happens if you test positive for drugs while enrolled in drug court: you get incarcerated. Drug courts and compulsory drug treatment programs are enforced by men with guns, and you can’t end a war if you’re not willing to stop pointing guns at people.”