Progressives get rolled on Pentagon policy

“Democrats hold power in the House, Senate and White House for the first time in more than a decade, yet the high-profile defense bill got more GOP votes than from Biden’s own party. As progressive lawmakers made their dissatisfaction with the bill’s high price tag clear, centrist Democrats knew they needed Republican support to pass the House and Senate.”

“Bipartisan provisions requiring women to register for the draft, cracking down on Saudi Arabia and imposing sanctions on Russia were nixed; legislation repealing outdated Iraq war authorizations fell by the wayside; reforms to the military justice system and efforts to combat extremism in the ranks were pared back; and a proposal to give Washington, D.C., control of its National Guard was dropped.”

Senate rules could undercut Democrats’ prescription drug plan

“Democrats have a multi-pronged strategy for addressing drug prices in the Build Back Better Act. First, they would allow Medicare to negotiate with pharmaceutical manufacturers on the prices of a certain number of prescription drugs, something they have been promising to do for years. But Democrats also want to limit drug companies’ ability to hike the prices of their medications for everyone — regardless of what kind of health insurance they have — in the future.

To do that, Congress has proposed requiring drugmakers to pay rebates for any price increases, in either the Medicare health program or the commercial health plans that cover 180 million Americans.

But, as Politico reported this week, the plan to apply the inflation-indexed rebates to the commercial market could be in trouble.

Senate Republicans — at the urging of the drug industry — plan to challenge whether the rebates for commercial health plans are permissible in a bill passed through the budget reconciliation process.”

“the Byrd Rule requires that all the provisions in a budget reconciliation bill directly change federal spending or revenue.

Republicans will argue that the purpose of the provision is to control drug prices for the private plans, full stop, and that does not have anything to do with federal spending or revenue — at least not directly.

The Democratic counterargument would be that applying these rebates to commercial plans would have a serious, more than incidental, effect on the federal budget. The federal government subsidizes almost all private insurance plans in one way or another, and so lower or higher costs for those plans could have major implications and lower costs for private health plans could also mean higher wages for workers, who would then pay more in taxes.

Who wins is likely ultimately a decision for the Senate parliamentarian.”

“what would happen if the parliamentarian determines rebates covering commercial plans cannot be allowed under the Byrd Rule?

The big fear, voiced by advocates of the Democrats’ plan, is that drug companies would extract higher prices from the commercial market in order to make up for the revenue they would lose from Medicare once that program’s new price controls take effect.

According to several experts, that appears unlikely. Loren Adler, associate director of the USC-Brookings Schaeffer Initiative for Health Policy, covered why in a lengthy analysis published in September.

“Fundamentally, for this to occur, it would have to be the case that drug companies are benevolently choosing not to profit-maximize at present,” Adler told me this week, “which I find rather difficult to believe.””

“Under the current plan, drugmakers would pay a rebate based on their sales volume in both the Medicare and commercial markets. In that scenario, there would be little reason to raise list prices faster than inflation, because you are paying the penalty based on the entire market.

But if those rebates can’t include the commercial market, the penalty will be based on the Medicare market only — making it a smaller price to pay if a company does decide to hike the list price of a drug at a rate higher than inflation.”

Why Bipartisanship In The Senate Is Dying

“There were once plenty of senators who represented states that voted for the other party for president. Between 1960 and 1990, roughly half of all sitting senators fit into this group. But over the last three decades, that number has plummeted”

” Likewise, in an earlier political era, many senators shared their state with a senator from the opposite party. Not only did this serve to reinforce the electoral reality that either party could win a state, but it also gave such senators an obvious bipartisan partner in the Senate, particularly on issues of concern to their home state. Today, though, only 12 senators..have a colleague who’s from the other party.”

“because Senate elections were more about local issues, both parties were able to compete nationally. Voters didn’t care as much whether they sent a Democrat or a Republican to Washington. What mattered was whether they sent somebody who could represent their state well. And senators could prove their worth by bringing home federal funding for roads and bridges — just the kind of issue that used to facilitate bipartisan dealmaking.
But today’s political campaigns and voters care far less about roads and bridges. They care far more about national culture-war issues — and which party controls the majority in Congress. As a result, Democrats can’t win in much of the Southeast and the Mountain West, and Republicans are now perpetual losers in the West and the Northeast. Only the Southwest and the Midwest remain competitive, and that’s only because state populations are currently balanced between liberal cities and conservative exurbs.

It’s also why bipartisanship in the Senate is waning. Republican senators in solidly Republican states do not have to worry about winning over some Democrats; the senators’ general election win is all but assured. Rather, the most likely way they could lose is if they face a primary challenge to their right. And the most likely way they could draw such a challenger is if they were to publicly work with Democrats.”

“even for senators who want to publicly prove their bipartisan bona fides, the problem is that party leaders like Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell prefer votes that draw sharp contrasts between the two parties. Divisive partisan politics help with campaign fundraising in an era of increasingly ideological donors (both big and small). And high-stakes elections mobilize and excite voters. Bipartisanship, in contrast, muddles the stakes and blurs the lines.”

“Biden worked harder than Trump to foster a bipartisan deal. But arguably, it was the Democrats’ threat of eliminating the filibuster to pass voting rights legislation that pushed McConnell into supporting a bipartisan agreement in a way that bolstered Sinema and Manchin’s faith in bipartisanship. This is hardly a sustainable formula for bipartisan dealmaking on major issues.

To be sure, Congress can still accomplish some lower-profile bipartisan lawmaking (like a recent major upgrade of our drinking-water and wastewater systems) through what Matthew Yglesias and Simon Bazelon have dubbed “Secret Congress.” It turns out that members of Congress can still work across party lines when issues are relatively noncontroversial and there is not much media attention.

Indeed, if you look beyond the partisan media’s name-calling, you can find surprising amounts of bipartisan activity”

“But “Secret Congress” works only because it’s secret, and it’s secret only because the issues are not high-profile enough to draw the public spotlight. But if the only bipartisanship that happens in Congress happens on uncontroversial one-off issues, this leaves the most important issues of the day to wither on the shoals of a 60-vote threshold in the Senate or, more commonly, in the gridlock of a divided government.”

“partisans are the most hostile to compromise — especially those individuals whose racial, religious and cultural identities line up most strongly with one party. But the partisan sorting that has aligned these identities so closely with one party over the last several decades is precisely the reason why voters have come down so hard on politicians who compromise. The more that national political conflict is centered on abstract moral issues and the identity of the nation, the more any compromise feels like a surrender.

To recreate the conditions that allowed bipartisanship to flourish in the Senate once upon a time seems unlikely anytime soon. Instead, the most bipartisan-oriented senators are the most endangered. Manchin is a dying breed. His eventual replacement in West Virginia will almost certainly be a Republican.”

Biden’s globe-spanning foreign policy problems awaken his GOP opponents

““Ted Cruz is making it very hard on him,” Murphy said bluntly of the Texas Republican senator. “Ted Cruz is holding up every single State Department nominee right now, so the Republican strategy is to try to make it as hard as possible for President Biden to manage crises around the world.”

Cruz, who is widely considered a possible candidate in the next presidential cycle, has held up Biden’s nominees to key national-security positions. He says it’s an effort to encourage the administration to fully implement congressionally mandated sanctions for the controversial Russia-to-Germany natural gas pipeline known as Nord Stream II.”

“Biden has declined to fully impose those sanctions — which could have crippled the pipeline — as the German government pushes for its completion. The president has said he wants to patch up U.S. alliances with European allies like Germany, which suffered under Trump.”

The Senate’s infrastructure gamble, explained

“Senate Democrats are navigating a tricky balancing act: attempting to simultaneously advance both a $600 billion bipartisan infrastructure bill and a $3.5 trillion budget resolution full of Democratic priorities that’s only expected to garner partisan support.

This plan, which has colloquially been referred to as the “two-track strategy,” is intended to demonstrate that lawmakers can actually work across party lines to get something done on “hard” infrastructure, like roads and airports, and that Democrats can also deliver on “human” infrastructure that’s a party priority but that Republicans won’t support, like funding for long-term caregiving and paid leave.

It is a somewhat circuitous approach to approving infrastructure legislation, driven by the focus that moderate Democrats, and President Joe Biden, have put on bipartisanship — as well as their refusal to alter the filibuster.”

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”

The filibuster’s racist history, explained

“While the filibuster’s origins in the early American republic have little to do with race, the practice has changed substantially over time. And the modern version, created in 1917, really does have a racist history.
“You start to see civil rights bills pass the House in the 1920s, and it was consistently used to block them,””

““If there was any ambiguity in the antebellum era, it certainly shed that during the Jim Crow era — where it was widely taken for granted that the filibuster was directly tied to [blocking] civil rights.””

“One of the most fundamental justifications for the filibuster offered by McConnell and conservative thinkers is that the practice protects minority rights, preventing the Senate majority from running roughshod over its political opponents.

The Jim Crow history of the filibuster shows that this defense relies on a philosophically impoverished notion of what “minority rights” means. It misunderstands what kinds of minorities need protecting in a democracy, and from whom.”

“the filibuster allows people who already have power to prevent changes to the political system. On civil rights issues, this effect almost always tends to redound to the benefit of people who want to preserve the racial status quo. There’s a reason why late 20th century liberals and groups like the NAACP repeatedly called for filibuster reform or abolition: They knew it would always stand in the way of fundamental system reforms.

“It is not a coincidence that the tool that blocks civil rights continues to be the tool that blocks progressive change today,” Jentleson says. “Even after the civil rights era, as the filibuster started to be used by both parties, it still consistently favored the party of established corporate power and the entrenched status quo.”

Right now, state-level Republicans are pursuing a series of bills disproportionately likely to disenfranchise nonwhite voters, an effort that the Brennan Center’s president Michael Waldman calls “the most significant attempted cutback of voting rights since the Jim Crow era.” Senate Republicans are protecting this offensive, blocking federal legislation like HR 1 and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act that could militate fair elections at the state level.

One could imagine all 50 Democrats voting for some version of these bills. So long as the filibuster remains intact, state-level Republicans are free to infringe on the rights of actually vulnerable minorities to their heart’s content.

This is the modern filibuster working as it always has.”

Joe Manchin opens the door to filibuster reform

“under a “talking filibuster,” any “member of the minority party can filibuster as long as he/she stays put on the floor.” But once a member finishes speaking, the filibuster would end, and “there’d be a vote at a simple majority threshold” of 50 votes, instead of the existing 60-vote threshold required to end a filibuster.

That’s a big change, because there’s currently no actual filibustering required to filibuster in the Senate, at least not in the conventional sense. As Vox explained back in 2015, the modern filibuster doesn’t require a senator talking on the floor for hours on end to delay a bill.

Instead, today’s filibuster is a straightforward move to reject unanimous consent on a bill that the minority can wield painlessly”

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.”