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Business groups increasingly worried about death of filibuster

Business groups increasingly worried about death of filibuster
© Greg Nash

Business groups across industries are becoming increasingly nervous about a potential Democratic sweep in November leading to the elimination of the legislative filibuster.

Financial services and oil and gas groups are among those who are worried that progressive policies might be inevitable and bipartisanship on pro-business legislation will be a thing of the past.

Meanwhile, unions and left-leaning groups are growing enthusiastic about the potential for passing bills without the 60-vote procedural hurdle in the Senate.

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The American Petroleum Institute, the main trade group for the oil and natural gas industry, warned against moving away from bipartisanship.

“The filibuster has been a part of the Senate for a long time and it has really protected the idea that consensus is needed to move large pieces of legislation,” said Frank Macchiarola, API's senior vice president of policy, economics and regulatory affairs. “As both parties have stated over time, what may seem like a good idea when one party is in power may quickly turn and be regretted when the other party is in power.”

Neil Bradley, executive vice president and chief policy officer at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, cautioned that ending the filibuster could lead to bad policies.

“The challenge that that presents is rather than policy getting forged with bipartisan consensus, you have kind of single-party enactment of legislation, which means there’s less consensus, less opportunity for input, and ultimately it results in much worse policy,” he said.

Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerOcasio-Cortez, progressives call on Senate not to confirm lobbyists or executives to future administration posts The 2016 and 2020 Senate votes are about the same thing: constitutionalist judges Pelosi and Trump go a full year without speaking MORE (D-N.Y.) recently said nothing is off the table in terms of eliminating the filibuster, adding that Democrats would “do what it takes” to enact their agenda under a potential Biden administration.

Industry lobbyists who asked to remain anonymous sounded the alarm on what may lay ahead.

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“It’s a thermo-nuclear bomb for the business community’s agenda if it does happen. It’s really worse than that. I would argue it’s really bad for the country,” one veteran lobbyist said.

Another industry lobbyist said, “If I were the banks in the financial services sector and there was a united Democratic control and [House Financial Services Committee Chairwoman] Maxine WatersMaxine Moore WatersKamala Harris and the stereotypes we place on Black women OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Top general negative for coronavirus, Pentagon chief to get tested after Trump result l Top House lawmakers launch investigation into Pentagon redirecting COVID-19 funds Top House lawmakers launch investigation into Pentagon redirecting COVID-19 funds MORE has the gavel and they have the regulators, I think that that could be a real scary sight.”

If Democrats are able to dismantle the filibuster, there will be intense lobbying from business groups to try to dissuade lawmakers from using those new powers to go after their industry.

Lobbyists are nervous about changes to antitrust regulations that could affect banks and technology companies, as well as climate change legislation and labor policies like card check, which would make it easier for unions to organize.

Progressive groups like Indivisible have made eliminating the filibuster a top priority.

“[A]s the Senate’s rules exist today, even in the best-case scenario where Democrats have unified control of our government, Republicans in the Senate will still have the power to block every single progressive priority,” Indivisible writes on its website.

The group called the procedural hurdle “undemocratic.”

Democracy for America has also called for changes to the filibuster. Communications director Neil Sroka argued that the past two sessions of Congress, with the Republicans in the majority in the Senate, showed that Republicans are also not willing to protect the institution. 

“I think the notion that a filibuster existed in the present Senate is kind of absurd, especially so in [regard to] the judiciary during the Trump administration," Sroka said.

Democrats eliminated the 60-vote filibuster for most executive nominations in 2013 and Republicans eliminated it for Supreme Court nominees in 2017. 

Republicans hold a 53-47 majority in the Senate, but most political handicappers say Democrats are poised to win back control in November, though by a margin that falls far short of the 60 needed to overcome a legislative filibuster.

Former President Obama is among those on the left who is supportive of removing the filibuster. He recently called it a “Jim Crow relic” and said it should be nixed in order to bolster voting rights.

Labor unions argue it should be removed to help restore labor laws. 

“If the Democrats take the majority and the Republicans return to their prior strategy of simply blocking all bills, hoping that the president is a one-term president, then we would certainly be willing to take a look at changing the rules. I do think it’s not going to serve anybody to have a Senate that doesn’t function,” Bill Samuel, AFL-CIO director of government affairs, told The Hill.

Democrats would still have some legislative tools at their disposal if they were to keep the filibuster intact with a slim majority. Budget reconciliation allows for certain bills to pass the Senate with a simple majority, as was the case in 2010 with the Affordable Care Act.

Lobbyist Jonathan Slemrod, a former Trump administration and Senate GOP staffer, said the business community should be “disturbed” about the possibility of the filibuster being abolished if Democratic presidential nominee Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden: Trump 'continues to lie to us' about coronavirus Rally crowd chants 'lock him up' as Trump calls Biden family 'a criminal enterprise' Undecided voters in Arizona wary of Trump, crave stability MORE wins.

“It would greatly increase the odds of major changes to labor, energy, health care, and financial services policy drafted by one party, plus a menu of tax increases to offset the cost of Biden's policy priorities. Turning the Senate into the House would diminish any incentive for bipartisan compromise on important issues that should be written by both parties,” said Slemrod, a partner at Harbinger Strategies.

Kevin Kelly, a former Democratic Senate staffer, said that while he doesn’t think Democrats’ first order of business will be nixing the legislative filibuster, removing it could lead to more legislation finding its way to the president’s desk.

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“People that are worried about additional scrutiny in health care, in energy, certainly in financial services, the technology world — all of those industries, will have to look at and say the possibility of action by the Congress to drive more results actually goes up and maybe goes up considerably depending on the alignment of the parties,” said Kelly, who’s now head of Clark Hill PLC’s government and regulatory affairs group.

Either way, eliminating the filibuster would undoubtedly keep all lobbyists on their toes, he said.

“It will definitely change the operational tempo in which you have to monitor legislation,” Kelly said.