Equilibrium & Sustainability

Business group backs filibuster exception for voting rights

Voter exists polling place
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The American Sustainable Business Council, an alliance of 250,000 businesses, is urging Democrats to bypass the filibuster in order to pass a landmark voting rights act. 

The filibuster has become an obstacle to “government performing its obligations,” Michael Neuwirth, spokesperson for the ASBC, told the Hill. “The current rules in the Senate …  and the way it’s being used — or misused —  is delaying and avoiding the government from working.”

“So I would say, part of our role is to help channel the voice of businesses so that the government is in fact working for the people,” he continued.

The ASBC, which formed in 2009 as a counterweight to what it calls the “short-term” business perspective provided by trade groups like the American Chemistry Council and the Chamber of Commerce, has pushed the government on a variety of environment, social, and governance issues.

The council sees these as linked aspects of a “more broadly inclusive prosperous economy that thinks about the long term,” said Thomas Oppel, the group’s executive vice president.

This had led it, for example, to back both the family and childcare elements of President Biden’s American Jobs plan, and to support the introduction of a Clean Power Standard to the infrastructure package, which would require utilities to steadily ramp up electricity from zero-carbon sources to 80 percent by 2030.

The group is not calling for the filibuster to be evaluated in the context of those measures, but it argues voting rights is different. 

The ASBC says it would back a measure similar to the one House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) has suggested, which would allow a voting rights measure to be passed as an exception to the filibuster, which generally requires legislation to win 60 votes to advance in the Senate. 

“We’re not supporting ending the filibuster, and don’t have a position on how the Senate should amend the bill,” said Oppel, who added that the Senate already makes exceptions to the filibuster for nominations.

The ASBC sees the gridlock in the Senate, in conjunction with conservative moves to restrict voting through voter ID laws — and the broader disaffection that keeps midterm voting rates below 50 percent — as part of a broader crisis in American democracy that is beginning to erode the business environment and ultimately the environment as a whole. 

Oppel drew a parallel between the ASBC’s work on more traditional sustainability questions — like renewable energy or regenerative agriculture — and its push on the voting rights bill.

Referencing a popular climate trope — that, as Michael E. Mann tweeted, “there is no economy on a dead planet” — Oppel said “there are also no free markets in an autocracy. And it’s pretty clear to us that we have a problem with voter participation.”

For that reason, he said, ASBC has “urged members to provide employees with paid time off to vote; we did a campaign last November to provide paid time off to work the polls. We’ve always been supportive of possible participation because of the connection to confidence in democracy and the economy. We think the only way to fully assure that is a democratic approach that provides full access to the ballot.”

Two voting rights measures are at the center of the congressional debate. The more sweeping bill is the For the People Act. Another, more narrow, measure is named after the late Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), a civil rights legend. 

Oppel said efforts to curb voting for fear of illegal ballots is misplaced.

“Study after study has demonstrated that illegal voting is very rare,” he said. “It just doesn’t happen all that often, and to focus on restricting the right to vote as opposed to encouraging those eligible to vote to do so — the potential customers who aren’t coming to your store — well, the way to prevent shoplifting is to shut your store completely. It makes no business sense.”

That risk, he said, is a broad systemic one that threatens the social and political superstructure that American business depends on in a manner analogous to climate change. In fact, he said, the two are related.

“I was at a farmers market in New Hampshire, talking to a guy whose business is maple syrup. This year he bottled 40 percent of what he normally bottled, and it’s clear that the environment has an impact: you need cold nights and warm days to get the sap running in just the right consistency and way,” he noted.

That, he said, “is a direct relationship between climate and economy, and if this guy doesn’t have the right to vote for representatives who can help his business survive by taking steps to tackle climate — then his business doesn’t survive, and the maple industry doesn’t survive.”

“He has a right to vote for representatives who are going to represent his point of view when they consider policies that have to do with things across the board,” he added.

Tags American Sustainable Business Council Climate change Filibuster For the People Act Joe Biden John Lewis John Lewis Voting Rights Act voting rights
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