House Democrats’ ambitious agenda set to run into Senate blockade

House Democrats are planning to pass in the coming weeks an ambitious agenda jam-packed with top legislative priorities that Senate Republicans blocked in the last Congress — likely with the same result, despite their party controlling the upper chamber.

Bills to reform election laws, address racial bias in policing, expand background checks for gun purchases and provide a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. at a young age are all fated to fall short of obtaining the 60 votes needed to overcome GOP filibusters.

Progressives argue Democrats should get rid of the filibuster so they can keep their campaign promises while the party controls both chambers of Congress and the White House.

They say failing to enact their priorities despite holding power will be a hard sell to voters.

But centrist Democrats such as Sens. Joe Manchin (W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.) remain ardently opposed to changing the upper chamber’s rules. And President Biden, a 36-year Senate veteran, has been wary of endorsing the idea to do away with the filibuster.

That’s opening up divisions between Democrats over what strategy they should pursue to show voters that they can govern.

As the number of bills House Democrats sent over to the Senate piled up in the last session of Congress, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) took to referring to then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) as the “Grim Reaper” who turned the upper chamber into a “graveyard.”

But Democrats can’t replicate that message now that Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) is in charge of the Senate.

“We can’t blame Republicans anymore. Because we’re giving Mitch McConnell a veto to every piece of progressive legislation, every piece of mainstream legislation,” said Congressional Progressive Caucus Chairwoman Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.).

“So I think people just have to really consider that we’re going to have a crossroads here soon. Maybe we’re not quite at that moment, but this is leading up to exactly why voters are so frustrated with politicians because they don’t feel like we actually do everything we said we would do and use every tool in our toolbox,” she said.

Democrats risk disappointing their voters, progressives warn, if the end result is effectively the same as when Republicans held the Senate majority.

“The Democratic majority in the Senate has to come up with a strategy. You’re not in the majority just to sit and do the same thing that the Republican majority did to all of the priority bills that the Democratic majority in the House sent to them,” said Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.).

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) outlined a busy House schedule for next few weeks, with lawmakers first set to take up two major items from the last session of Congress to send anew to the Senate: an expansive voting rights and election reform package as well as a police overhaul that was originally passed in the aftermath of last summer’s racial justice protests.

Then the House will vote next week on legislation to bolster workers’ abilities to unionize, require universal background checks for gun purchases, and close the so-called “Charleston loophole” to give federal investigators more time to perform background checks.

And during the week of March 15, the House will consider bills to revive the Equal Rights Amendment, renew the Violence Against Women Act and provide certain young undocumented immigrants with a pathway to citizenship.

The only item on tap that’s expected to reach Biden’s desk is the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package, which Democrats are taking up under the budget reconciliation process that allows them to circumvent a GOP filibuster.

Hoyer on Tuesday suggested that the debate over Senate rules could change if Democratic priorities are repeatedly stalled in the coming months.

“I personally believe that the filibuster is an undemocratic aspect of the United States Senate. At some point in time, the majority ought to be able to rule,” Hoyer said.

“We’ll see if the senators, particularly on the Democratic side, get frustrated enough that they are unable to do what in a democracy you think you can do where the majority rules and should rule,” he said.

Manchin, meanwhile, was adamant on Monday evening that he still hadn’t budged on eliminating the filibuster. Without his support, Democrats wouldn’t have the votes to change Senate rules with their razor-thin 50-50 majority.

“Jesus Christ! What don’t you understand about never?” Manchin told reporters.

Supporters of keeping the legislative filibuster in place maintain that eliminating it could come back to haunt Democrats if they are back in the Senate minority and disincentivize any bipartisan cooperation.

Biden, for instance, prides himself as a dealmaker who could work with Republicans and reach deals on legislation during his Senate tenure and while serving as vice president.

But progressives are skeptical that the majority of Republicans are working in good faith as they seek to eliminate Democrats’ majorities in the next election or that even the compromise-oriented members would ever provide enough votes.

“Mitch McConnell hasn’t changed. This is not a different person. The Republicans haven’t changed. These are people who are only interested in obstructing,” Omar said. “And so if we want actual progress to take place, if we want to legislate on behalf of the people, we have to do everything that we can to bypass them and not wait to compromise with them.”

Tags Chuck Schumer Ilhan Omar Joe Biden Joe Manchin Mitch McConnell Nancy Pelosi Pramila Jayapal Steny Hoyer
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