By Talmon Joseph Smith for the New York Times |
For the first time since 2009, the Democratic Party enters a new Congress with control of the presidency, the Senate and the House of Representatives. And only a week into the Biden administration, there has been a lot of hand-wringing and finger-wagging in Washington over what responsibly wielding that power looks like. In his latest essay, the Times columnist Jamelle Bouie, a proud progressive, asks bluntly, “What was the point of putting together a majority in the Senate if they aren’t going to wield it?”
He argues that “Democrats have two options for passing Biden’s plan into law,” writing, “They could use ‘reconciliation’ — a limited-use parliamentary maneuver that lets any deficit-neutral budget-related bill pass with a simple majority — or they could end the legislative filibuster and rid themselves of the burden of a 60-vote threshold” for legislative passage in the Senate and face few limits on accomplishing their agenda. His ultimatum: “Change the rules and govern or leave them as is and struggle on the way to likely defeat in the next elections.”
As is his habit, Jamelle then anchors this analysis in history. Playing hardball in Congress, he points out, led to some of liberals’ most historic gains. “In 1961, the prospect of gridlock and the possibilities opened up by a new administration motivated a coalition of liberals and moderates to change the rules and clear a path that would, in just a few short years, allow Congress to pass some of the most important legislation in its history,” he writes.
And he concludes that the consequences of manicuring the congressional status quo instead of upending it in the name of policy progress could be dire. If moderate Democrats select the former option, he warns, “they should prepare for when the voting public decides it would rather have the party that promises nothing and does nothing than the one that promises quite a bit but won’t work to make any of it a reality.”