Senate Republicans aren't interested in compromise — it may be time for Democrats to use Plan B
© Greg Nash

No one would think of blaming Sen. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinSunday shows preview: Delta concerns prompt CDC mask update; bipartisan infrastructure bill to face challenges in Senate Democrats warn shrinking Biden's spending plan could backfire Top Democrat: 'A lot of spin' coming from White House on infrastructure MORE for shrinking West Virginia’s population by 3.5 percent since 2010, one of only three states that lost people over the last decade. There are lots of economic and demographic dynamics that accounted for the drop.

But given that the Mountaineer State will lose a House seat and an electoral vote, one should question whether Manchin should be determining the fate of multiple bills in the U.S. Senate. For the record, I really don’t mind that Sen. Manchin says he only wants to make sure that West Virginia has a seat at the table. What I do mind, and what every American concerned about our democracy should mind, is that he now apparently thinks he gets to decide what everyone at the table will eat.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellBiden's bipartisan deal faces Senate gauntlet The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden sets new vaccine mandate as COVID-19 cases surge Democrats warn shrinking Biden's spending plan could backfire MORE (R-Ky.) regularly makes a similar point when he justifies his ability to hold up legislation he doesn’t like. He says his position allows him to make sure Kentucky “punches above its weight.” Given the rules of the Senate and a sheepish Republican conference, he certainly does, but that doesn’t mean Democrats should turn the other cheek.

ADVERTISEMENT

It has to be acknowledged that things could have been much worse. Democrats easily could have lost two special elections in Georgia, and we wouldn’t be having a discussion about Sens. Joe Manchin, or Kyrsten SinemaKyrsten SinemaSenate infrastructure talks spill over into rare Sunday session Senate holds sleepy Saturday session as negotiators finalize infrastructure deal On The Money: Justice Department says Trump's tax returns should be released | Democrats fall short of votes for extending eviction ban MORE (D-Ariz.) for that matter. It is only because we have an evenly split Senate and a Democratic vice president that Joe Manchin matters at all. In almost any other scenario, the significance of one member would be minimal.

Of course, we are where we are, and each and every Senate Democrat essentially has the power to veto virtually any bill that comes to the Senate, since it is unlikely that any Republican senator will support Democratic initiatives. That is precisely why Joe Manchin and every other Democrat in the United States Senate must recognize that they have national responsibilities that must take precedence. That’s also why they must put aside their personal attitudes about the filibuster so that the nation’s interests can prevail.

In The Federalist Papers, James Madison and Alexander Hamilton wrote that while the Senate was designed in a way to ensure that the majority didn’t ride roughshod over the minority (even though they were talking about demographic “factions” and not political parties), those two Founding Fathers insisted that the majority must eventually always win; that minority rule was antithetical to a democracy. Common sense tells us that this is still the case in 2021, Trump Nation notwithstanding.

It must be increasingly clear to Democratic senators that there is no realistic chance of Republican compromise on the major Democratic priorities. McConnell made that clear earlier this month when he told us who he is: someone 100 percent focused on stopping the Biden agenda. We already know there are no Republican votes for critical voting rights and electoral reform, gun safety legislation, and many other bills, despite overwhelming public support for them. The American Rescue Plan had roughly 70 percent popular support, and not one Republican in either the House or Senate voted for it. I’m not opposed to giving bipartisanship and compromise a chance, but only a naïve politician — and neither Manchin nor Sinema is naïve — would believe that is likely.

I am confident most every congressional Democrat would prefer bipartisan legislative action, but we all must be fully prepared, and signal as much, to deploy Plan B at some point. That means using the budget reconciliation process when applicable and being willing to ditch the filibuster when the national interest is at stake — despite Joe Manchin’s appetite.

Yarmuth represents the 3rd District of Kentucky and is chairman of the Budget Committee.