It’s crucial that Congress pass the For the People Act, a comprehensive democracy reform package, but the Jim Crow-era filibuster is standing in the way. Legislation to finally grant statehood to the District of Columbia is also gaining traction. So we are continuing to write and call about these three critical issues.
Here are some important points about each topic that you might want to include in emails and phone calls to Senators Tillis and Burr and in writing your letters to the editor. (For letter-to-the-editor writing tips, see How to Write a Letter to the Editor.)
The For The People Act
- Help ensure clean and fair elections, e.g., by reducing or eliminating the influence of big money, dark money, and foreign money in politics.
- Make it easier to vote, for example by requiring the states to automatically register eligible voters and to provide for same-day registration (i.e., on election day) for Federal elections.
- Reduce or eliminate partisan gerrymandering by requiring independent (i.e., non-partisan) redistricting commissions.
- Strengthen ethics and financial disclosure requirements for the President, Vice President, Members of Congress (MOC’s) , and Federal officers and employees. One way this will be done is by prohibiting MOC’s from serving on the boards of for-profit entities.
Eliminating the Filibuster
- The filibuster (or cloture rule) in the Senate has been used more in the last 20 years than in the previous 80. Put simply, the cloture rule requires 60 members to end debate on most topics and move to a vote. So rather than needing a simple majority to pass legislation, 60 votes are often necessary. And nobody has to stand on the Senate floor and talk, or make any other effort, to maintain the filibuster. If the 60 votes aren’t there to invoke cloture and go on to a vote, they simply move on to other concerns. Does it make sense that it takes 60 votes in order to actually vote on the legislation under consideration when only a simple majority is required to pass it?
- The filibuster was not part of the founders’ original vision of the Senate and is not mentioned in the Constitution; it is a simply an aspect of the rules that the Senate has adopted for itself. It did not exist before 1806, and members of both parties tried but failed to get rid of it during the 1800’s.
- The details of how the filibuster could be changed or eliminated get complicated, but there is a pathway to doing so with a simple majority vote – you may have heard this described as the “nuclear option.”
- The Senate could choose to make it more difficult to filibuster without eliminating it entirely. There are already certain categories of bills – think budget reconciliation – that are exempt from the cloture rule. The Senate could exempt other types of legislation. It’s also possible that something like a talking filibuster could be required. Or perhaps if the cloture rule is invoked and 60 Senators won’t support ending the debate then the Senate could require itself to keep debating the bill under consideration and not move on to other business.
- The bottom line is that the filibuster needs to be eliminated or at least made rare once again in order to allow the Senate, and Congress as a whole, to get on with the people’s business and govern effectively.
- The residents of Washington, DC, pay Federal (and other) taxes but are not permitted to vote in Federal elections. They pay more Federal tax in total dollars than 21 states. This is taxation without representation and not what our democracy is supposed to be about.
- The DC population is about 712,000. Wyoming is about 572,000, Vermont around 627,000, and Alaska 736,000. So DC would not be the smallest state, and population size is no excuse for the lack of voting rights. Perhaps if DC is not to be granted statehood we should be fair and change Wyoming and Vermont to territories!
- A March poll conducted by Data for Progress and the progressive advocacy coalition Democracy for All 2021 Action found that 54% of likely voters think D.C. should be a state. The poll found that clear majorities among likely voters in urban (57%) and suburban (56%) areas, as well as in swing states (57%), support D.C. statehood. About half of voters in rural areas of the country agree.
- The House is expected to vote on the issue later this month. Due to Republican opposition in the Senate (voters in DC skew strongly Democratic) it is highly unlikely that it will pass the Senate without changes to the filibuster.
Keep writing and calling and talking about all three of these important issues. This is our chance to protect democracy for all Americans!