Senate Debate On Infrastructure Bill Puts Filibuster In the Spotlight

Senate Republicans generally and minority leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) specifically have expressed that preserving the filibuster for general legislation is a high priority. The politics surrounding the Biden administration’s two-part infrastructure plan may offer them a path toward protecting the minority safeguard.

McConnell likely had several goals in mind when he allowed the debate to be opened on the bipartisan part of the infrastructure plan on July 28. That smaller infrastructure bill currently supports 17 GOP Senators, although the bill itself has not yet been drafted.

Due to the filibuster rule, which takes 60 votes for conventional legislation to pass the Senate, Democrats will be forced to use budget reconciliation to provide the much more significant portion of the package. The bigger plan authorizes at least $3.5 trillion in extra expenditure, much of it on progressive “wish list” projects that are not typically classified as infrastructure.

“It’s guaranteed to be the kind of legislation that no member on either side of the aisle will think is perfect, but it’s an important basic duty of government,” McConnell said on July 29 of the bipartisan bill.

McConnell drew some unusual praise from Senate Democrats for moving the bill forward. Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) said, “I was a little surprised. I’m happy if I’m wrong. His record is clear: He has great enthusiasm for killing Democratic legislation. If this proves to be the exception, that’s fantastic.”

Centrist Democrat Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona are likely to support the larger bill. Both are also expected to be reluctant to throw out the filibuster. The Senate parliamentarian is also expected to disallow inclusion on many parts of that bill in a reconciliation bill.

Moving debate forward on the bipartisan infrastructure bill helps McConnell keep the pressure on Manchin and Sinema to maintain their support of the filibuster because it promotes cooperation between the parties on essential bills.

Even if Speaker Nancy Pelosi blocks the bipartisan bill in the House, Manchin and Sinema are in a stronger position to argue that bipartisanship is still possible. Pelosi has said that she will kill the bipartisan bill in the House unless it comes to her and the larger infrastructure bill passed either by reconciliation or as a result of killing the filibuster.

Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-ND) said, “I don’t like to speak to what his motives are, but I do think Mitch would like a good thing to happen. And infrastructure is the political safe zone.”