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Filibuster Stays, Paving Way for Power-Sharing Agreement

January 26, 2021 by Dan McCue
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

WASHINGTON – Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell dropped his demand that Democrats maintain the Senate filibuster — ending an early stalemate in the Senate that prevented party leaders from negotiating a power-sharing agreement.

McConnell announced Monday night that he was ready to proceed with power-sharing talks after two moderate Democrats signaled they would not vote to end the legislative filibuster, assuring him that it would stay in place.

The position of the two Democrats — Sens. Joe Manchin, of West Virginia, and Kyrsten Sinema, of Arizona — also ensured that Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer lacked the votes to end the filibuster, a key demand from his party’s hardcore left.

McConnell had demanded that the filibuster rule remain in exchange for his cooperation on reallocating power in the Senate, which is evenly divided for the first time in two decades.

The Democrats control the chamber since Vice President Harris would break any tie.

But there are still a lot of particulars to work out and there isn’t a lot of precedent to lean on; the Senate has only been evenly divided three times before, in 1881, 1953 and 2001.

For now, Democrats and Republicans will operate on a power-sharing deal that follows the model used in 2001.

Under the 2001 agreement, both parties had an equal number of committee seats, equal budgets for committee Republicans and Democrats, and the ability of both leaders to advance legislation out of committees that are deadlocked. But Democrats will hold the chairmanships and Schumer will set the agenda for the floor.

Both sides sought to spin McConnell’s change of position Monday night.

“The legislative filibuster was a key part of the foundation beneath the Senate’s last 50-50 power-sharing agreement in 2001,” the Republican leader said.

“With these assurances, I look forward to moving ahead with a power-sharing agreement modeled on that precedent.

“They agree with President Biden’s and my view that no Senate majority should destroy the right of future minorities of both parties to help shape legislation,” McConnell  said.

In a written statement, Justin Goodman, a spokesman for Schumer, said “We’re glad Sen. McConnell threw in the towel and gave up on his ridiculous demand.

“We look forward to organizing the Senate under Democratic control and start getting big, bold things done for the American people,” he added.

McConnell and Schumer are expected to begin finalizing an organizing resolution later today.

Without an agreement, the Senate would have been essentially paralyzed with Senate Democrats unable to take full control of the chamber, despite being in the majority.

Democrats would have maintained control of the floor and the legislative agenda, but leadership of key committees would have been retained by Republicans.

Committee assignments for newly sworn-in members could not have moved forward and key legislative priorities for the new Biden administration, including a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package, would have been stymied.

So far in the 117th Congress, Republicans and Democrats avoided partisan impasses on cabinet nominees and on scheduling the impeachment trial.

But a fight could be looming over a proposal by some Democrats that leadership use a procedure called budget reconciliation to bypass Republicans to advance President Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package.

Schumer wants to send it to the White House for Biden’s signature by mid-March, with a follow-on package later in the year.

Here again, Manchin and Sinema are shaping up to be key players. It’s said they are trying to pull  together a smaller, bipartisan package that could pass both chambers without the conflict over reconciliation.

But the time to do that is short, as a deal on a smaller bill would no doubt have to be done before the Feb. 8 start of former President Trump’s impeachment trial.

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