Good News, Yes, Good News

There might be good news coming from Washington. The obvious good news should be the passage of the Build Back Better Act in some form or other. Last month, Reuters used seven categories to summarize what’s in the bill (the details of which are all subject to change):

  1. Climate
  2. Education
  3. Family Benefits
  4. Healthcare
  5. Housing
  6. Immigration
  7. Taxes
  8. Other

Its passage after months of negotiation between the best and worst Democrats in Congress will be a very good thing (Republicans are opposed to progress and fairness so will all vote against it).

Meanwhile, Senate Democrats are working on changes to the filibuster. That would allow them to pass some kind of voting rights legislation over the usual Republican opposition. From Politico:

The latest attempt is taking place among a group of Senate Democrats who have gone back to the drawing board. Rather than the draconian step of tossing out the filibuster, they’re debating other possible rule changes to the chamber that could pave the way for election reform bills that are viewed by Democrats as paramount to combatting restrictive new voting laws and preserving democracy.

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), who is a member of the group drafting the reforms, said it would be “premature” to share specifics of the possible rule changes at this stage because “there’s no handshake deal yet.” But he did express a level of cautious optimism, stressing that abolishing the filibuster, which requires 60 Senate votes to advance legislation, is not under consideration this time.

“We’re not going to abolish the filibuster. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) has made [it] very plain we’re not abolishing the filibuster,” Kaine said in an interview. “We’re looking at a number of complaints that Democrats and Republicans have had about the way the place operates to see if we can restore it to operating better and do it in a way that would facilitate passage of voting rights.”

Kaine said the group is “analyzing potential rule reforms” by “putting the shoe on the other foot” and asking “If we’re in the minority, how would we feel about this? Can we live under this? Would this make the Senate work better for either party under a president of either party?”

The latest conversations come after four failed attempts by Democrats to pass voting or election reform bills in the Senate due to a [Republican] blockade. The hope within the party is that once President Joe Biden’s social spending plan is passed, they can prioritize voting rights and present a pathway to get it through the Senate. . . . 

The effort is expected to come to a head as early as January, according to multiple senators involved. . . . 

Ideas being floated . . . include changes to the amendment process and how the Senate debates legislation and nominations. . . . Other options raised by Democrats — and Manchin himself — include a standing filibuster which would require senators to continue debating on the floor rather than needing 60 votes to end debate on a bill. . . . 

Biden has urged Congress to pass legislation that expands ballot access, ends partisan gerrymandering and would restore the pre-clearance authority of the 1965 Voting Rights Act gutted by the Supreme Court. . . . Biden has characterized the moment as an inflection point that poses the “most significant test of our democracy since the Civil War”, as civil rights advocates press the administration to match the president’s rhetoric with urgent action . . .

For months, Democrats have repeatedly run into a brick wall as every GOP senator but one has refused to offer votes for even a restoration of key sections of the Voting Rights Act, a reform Democrats see as a modest step. Republicans have voted for such reauthorizations in the past but their opposition has led an increasing number of Democrats to either endorse a carveout to the filibuster, if not an outright elimination. . .

But Democrats will need buy-in from Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) — who both oppose nixing the legislative filibuster — if they want to change the chambers’ rules. . . .

Tester said Tuesday that he thinks Manchin and Sinema are “absolutely” open to some of the changes being considered. . . .


On another front, the five most reactionary Republicans on the Supreme Court decided it’s fine to let states ignore the Supreme Court and the Constitution. This is how Chief Justice Roberts, the least reactionary Republican, described the majority’s ruling on Texas’s anti-abortion bounty hunter law:

The clear purpose and actual effect of [the Texas law] has been to nullify this Court’s rulings. It is, however, a basic principle that the Constitution is the “fundamental and paramount law of the nation,” and “[i]t is emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is.” Marbury v. Madison (1803). Indeed, “[i]f the legislatures of the several states may, at will, annul the judgments of the courts of the United States, and destroy the rights acquired under those judgments, the constitution itself becomes a solemn mockery.” United States v. Peters (1809). The nature of the federal right infringed does not matter; it is the role of the Supreme Court in our constitutional system that is at stake.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote:

The Court should have put an end to this madness months ago, before [the law] first went into effect. It failed to do so then, and it fails again today. . . . The Court thus betrays not only the citizens of Texas, but also our constitutional system of government.

Given that a Supreme Court majority has gone renegade, reform is clearly necessary. A former federal judge and a law professor published a column in The Washington Post explaining why they now favor a major change:

We now believe that Congress must expand the size of the Supreme Court and do so as soon as possible. We did not come to this conclusion lightly. . . . We started out leaning toward term limits for Supreme Court justices but against court expansion and ended up doubtful about term limits but in favor of expanding the size of the court. . . . 

Sadly, we no longer have [confidence in the Court], given three things: first, the dubious legitimacy of the way some justices were appointed; second, what Justice Sonia Sotomayor rightly called the “stench” of politics hovering over this court’s deliberations about the most contentious issues; and third, the anti-democratic, anti-egalitarian direction of this court’s decisions about matters such as voting rights, gerrymandering and the corrupting effects of dark money.

Those judicial decisions haven’t been just wrong; they put the court — and, more important, our entire system of government — on a one-way trip from a defective but still hopeful democracy toward a system in which the few corruptly govern the many, something between autocracy and oligarchy. Instead of serving as a guardrail against going over that cliff, our Supreme Court has become an all-too-willing accomplice in that disaster . . . [We cannot look] other way when the court seeks to undo decades of precedent relied on by half the population to shape their lives just because, given the new majority, it has the votes.


Republicans go too far when they have power. Their overreach invites a Democratic response. Perhaps they’ve done it this time as well. I sure hope so.