OPINION: It’s time to stop being afraid of partisanship

Many people sit at wooden desks in a round, yellow room with a blue carpet.
Sam Hernandez PO ’24 argues that if Democrats want to pass bills in the Senate, they should remove the filibuster. (Courtesy: Eric Haynes)

Our nation is divided. The Black Lives Matter protests and the reactions they generated demonstrated that our country has huge disagreements over important issues like systemic racism and police brutality.

Insofar as there are immense ideological gaps between what Democrats and Republicans support, there is no reason why the Democrats should shy away from being partisan in a bid to compromise. 

A study demonstrated that 69 percent of Republicans think white people face the same level of racial discrimination as Black people, and the same study found that 63 perent of Republicans believe immigrants are “invading” the country and impacting American culture.

The data on what Democrats believe skews heavily in the opposite direction on the above issues. These ideological bridges seem impossible to gap, and Democrats don’t need to waste time trying to do so. 

The truth is, Democrats currently control the presidency as well as Congress — though I do acknowledge that their majority in the Senate is incredibly slim. If they remove the filibuster, which allows endless debate on a bill unless it can get 60 votes in the Senate and effectively allows the Republicans to kill any bill they choose, the Democrats have complete freedom for the next two years to accomplish their platform, and all it would take is a small change in the Senate precedent.

Currently, Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., are the filibuster’s guardians, refusing to abolish it in the name of bipartisanship. I’m sure Manchin’s millions of dollars in coal stocks — threatened by a shift to renewable energy, a likely shift if the filibuster were removed — have nothing to do with his position.

Even if they genuinely value bipartisanship, I question why that means they need to oppose the filibuster. If Manchin or Sinema feel as though the legislative process for any bill isn’t being bipartisan enough, they could still choose to force the Democrats to get some Republicans on board if they withhold their vote because the Democratic margin is so slim.

Moreover, the filibuster allows Republican lawmakers to stop legislation that has immense popular support from both sides of the aisle. For example, a Yale study found that 92 percent of Democrat voters and 64 percent of Republican voters support the policy proposals of the Green New Deal, but out of fear of appearing overly partisan and “radical,” 43 Senate Democrats abstained on a 2019 vote over it, and another four explicitly voted against it

In response to the aforementioned vote, the Senate Democrats offered their own resolution on climate change: All it said is that climate change is real, and that the government should take action. 

To be clear, the Democrats are so concerned with moderacy, under the guise of pragmatism, that the most progressive solution the Democrats could get behind is that some action should be taken on one of the most pressing issues of our time.

This virulent fear of being partisan in Congress is bad for American citizens, but if that’s not enough to convince Democratic lawmakers, it’s also bad politics. If the Democratic Party can’t get Manchin and Sinema in line, they risk wasting two years getting next to nothing done, which only sets them to lose even more Congressional seats in the 2022 midterms. 

Republicans stand to gain nothing by helping the Biden administration and Democrats pass popular legislation, because it will make Democrats look good, lowering the Republicans’ ability to take back seats in two years. In the face of such obstruction, Democrats need to recognize that partisanship is real, however much they’d like to pretend otherwise, and embrace it.

Democrats seem to be trending in the other direction, though. On Feb. 25, Senate parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough ruled that the $15 minimum wage hike could not be included in the COVID-19 stimulus bill. This decision, however, could be overruled by Vice President Harris, if she so chose. But, she has refused, and the administration defended its position by restating their commitment to “the Senate’s process,” signaling that the Biden administration is still looking to avoid partisanship given the bipartisan origins of the process.

Respecting processes is great, but when raising the minimum wage will give more than a million American households the food security they currently lack, tradition should go out the window.

By confining themselves to the rigid bounds of tradition and bipartisanship, the Biden administration and Democratic Party limit themselves in their ability to deliver much needed relief and change to America.

If Democrats really can’t find a way to get Manchin and Sinema to vote against the filibuster, there are still other methods they could employ to diminish the Republicans’ ability to stop bills dead in their tracks, such as returning to the speaking filibuster, which would require the Senator filibustering a bill to speak continuously if they want to prolong floor debate.

It’s okay for Democrats to reject ideas that fundamentally compromise Democratic values. And if they’re the party in power, it’s okay to steamroll the Republicans, as long as they’re bettering Americans’ lives by taking crucial steps against climate change, poverty, racism and other immensely pressing issues in our time. 

Over the course of the past decade, Republicans have already demonstrated their willingness to change the rules when they need to, and Democrats need to do the same. Climate change is rapidly accelerating, poverty rates are surging and food security is plummeting. So Democrats: Use every trick in the book to pass policy. Play dirty, change the rules if you need to and skirt the existing ones as much as you possibly can without breaking the law, because your current commitment to “bringing people together” sure is leaving a lot of people behind.

Sam Hernandez PO ’24 is from San Antonio, Texas. He likes it when good policy passes in Congress.

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