A coalition pushing to reform the filibuster just tripled in size after dozens of progressive groups signed on to argue Democrats cannot enact their full agenda, including expanding voting rights, gun control, immigration reform or countless other priorities, while following a Senate rule that lets the minority party easily shut down legislation.
With President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill passed into law through the budget reconciliation process, Democrats in Congress will now have to contend with passing the rest of their agenda through regular order. And that means dealing with the Senate’s filibuster rules requiring 60 votes to end debate ― allowing Republicans to easily derail legislation.
The 43 new progressive groups more than triple the size of the Fix Our Senate coalition. The list of new members was shared with HuffPost on Wednesday ahead of an announcement. Many of the groups’ signature legislative priorities face certain defeat at the hands of the filibuster, including gun control groups like March For Our Lives and Newtown Alliance Action, and the pro-immigration reform group Voto Latino.
“Groups that had hoped to see progress when Democrats won a majority in the Senate are now seeing that progress is just impossible unless the filibuster is eliminated,” Fix Our Senate spokesman Eli Zupnick said.
The coalition will now launch a six-figure ad buy targeting Democratic senators in Washington and in their home states to call for ending or reforming the filibuster. The groups in the coalition will ask their members to get involved in the campaign to push for filibuster reform as well.
“We’re joining forces with the Fix Our Senate campaign to make clear to Congress that the filibuster can no longer stand in the way of passing legislation that secures every American’s right to vote regardless of creed or color,” said María Teresa Kumar, president and CEO of Voto Latino.
The announcement of a growing anti-filibuster coalition comes as debate over changing Senate rules intensifies. After long opposing any changes to the filibuster, Biden, who served for 36 years in the Senate, told ABC News on Tuesday that he is open to reforming filibuster rules in order to pass his agenda.
“I don’t think that you have to eliminate the filibuster, you have to do what it used to be when I first got to the Senate back in the old days,” Biden said. “You had to stand up and command the floor. You had to keep talking.”
Biden’s comments followed on the heels of a public back-and-forth among senators on whether the Senate should change its rules. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), the most ardent filibuster defender among Democrats, floated the idea of bringing back a talking filibuster, saying on March 7, “Maybe it has to be more painful, maybe you have to stand there.”
Manchin’s comments offered new hope to Democrats who saw changing the filibuster as the only way to get their agenda enacted. Then, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the second-in-command in Senate Democrat leadership, endorsed filibuster reform in a Senate floor speech on Monday in which he also backed some kind of talking filibuster.
This prompted Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the architect of the contemporary filibuster, to promise a “scorched earth” Senate if Democrats change the rules.
The reason senators are now openly debating the filibuster is because House-passed bills are now piling up in the chamber. And none of them can move through the budget reconciliation process, which provides a carveout from the filibuster rules for tax-and-spending legislation.
In just the past month, the House passed legislation on voting rights and campaign finance reform, transgender civil rights, policing reform, gun purchase background checks and protections for labor union organizing.
“We’ve waited a very long time, over eight years, to pass meaningful bills to reduce the gun violence,” said Po Murray, chairman of Newtown Action Alliance, a gun control advocacy group formed after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School and a new member of the Fix Our Senate coalition. “We have to take this public health crisis and deal with it in the Senate.”
The filibuster is particularly painful for gun control advocates, as popular background check legislation failed in 2013 after the Sandy Hook shooting despite a 54-vote Senate majority from both parties voting in support of it.
The same is true for advocates of other progressive issues. The Dream Act, a signature immigration reform bill, failed multiple times in the Senate despite receiving over 50 votes from members of both parties, including 59 votes in 2010. The DISCLOSE Act, a campaign finance reform bill that is now part of the House-passed For the People Act, failed in 2010 with 59 votes. Former President Barack Obama’s signature climate policy, a cap-and-trade bill, never even got a vote on the Senate floor in 2009 or 2010, as it could not secure 60 votes to clear a filibuster.
“Now the science demands bigger and bolder solutions than 11 years ago, but the filibuster still stands in the way,” said Jamal Raad, executive director of Evergreen Action, an environmental advocacy group that is an original member of the Fix Our Senate coalition.
The growing anti-filibuster coalition believes that now is the time to turn up the pressure to change the filibuster rules. But the real moment of truth will come when McConnell and Republicans do in fact block a bill with a filibuster.
“This will move from an abstract issue to something that will very clearly prevent progress unless the filibuster is eliminated,” Zupnick said.
And if Democrats don’t change the rules to enact the agenda that helped win them the House, Senate and White House, they should expect to pay a price with voters in 2022 and 2024.
“Normal people don’t care about Senate rules,” Raad said. “They care about whether you’re going to deliver for them.”
See the 43 new groups joining Fix Our Senate below:
Arizona Student Association
Battle Born Collective
Be A Hero
Broward for Progress
Call to Action Colorado
Campaign for America’s Future
Climate Crisis Policy
Colorado Businesses for a Livable Climate
Free Speech For People
Friends of the Earth
Guns Down America
Harvey Milk LGBTQ Democratic Club
Maine People’s Alliance
Mainers for Accountable Leadership
March For Our Lives
National Women’s Health Network
Newtown Action Alliance
One Fair Wage
Pride At Work
Progressive Turnout Project
Protect My Care
Raising Women’s Voices for the Health Care We Need
Social Security Works
US Businesses for a Livable Climate
Voices of Health Care Action