Sen. Elizabeth Warren wrapped up a three-day swing through southeast Iowa Monday, focusing on rural parts of the state fewer than two months shy of the caucuses.
Warren traversed the southeast corner of Iowa, holding town halls during which she shortened her traditional stump speech to allow for more voter questions—a new shift for Warren, who until recently only answered about three questions per event.
One voter praised Warren for her “wonderful” policy proposals, but asked how she would see any of them come to fruition as Republicans will try to block her agenda if she is elected.
“It is time to roll back the filibuster and I will lead that fight,” Warren said to cheers. “If [Sen.] Mitch McConnell ‘I will use whatever power I’ve got to block the agenda’ like he did with President Obama then I’m done. I will step up and say, ‘come on Democrats, it’s time to roll back the filibuster.”Without naming anyone specifically, Warren took a jab at her opponents who aren’t firmly supportive of getting rid of the filibuster. Only Warren and candidate Tom Steyer have clearly stated they support eliminating it, according to The Washington Post.
“When people come to you and talk about climate change and say, ‘I’ve got these great plans for climate change’but then you ask them about the filibuster and then say, ‘no, I’m not going to roll back the filibuster.’ Then you really have to say: you’re not serious,” Warren said.
I have long said that we need to either abolish or greatly reform the use of the filibuster if Democrats are to tackle serious issues like climate change. This is why Warren has received the endorsement from the major progressive organization, Indivisible:
Sen. Elizabeth Warren was ranked at the top of progressive group Indivisible's Democratic candidate scorecard on Wednesday with a score of 95% and garnered praise from the group for her commitment to enacting bold democracy reforms on Day One of her potential administration.
The Massachusetts Democrat has “both a bold progressive vision for our country and the day-one democracy agenda we need to make that vision a reality,” Indivisible wrote.
The group scored the Democratic candidates in three areas:
- Policy Platform
- Day-One Democracy Agenda
- Building Grassroots Power
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) was slightly behind Warren with an overall score of 89%, losing some points in the latter two categories. He was given the highest score in the Policy Platform category, with 97% vs. Warren's 94%.
“More than any other candidate, he has proposed the most progressive and transformative set of policies across key policy issues,” Indivisible said of Sanders. “In particular, his proposals to combat climate change, to transform our immigration system, and to guarantee universal access to healthcare earned him full credit in those policy sections.”
Sanders won perfect scores on his policy proposals for immigration, climate action, healthcare, and economic justice; Warren lost points on immigration for failing to commit to a moratorium on deportations.
Sanders lost points for not committing to ending the Senate filibuster as Warren has. Though the Vermont senator has proposed directing his vice president to help his policy proposals including Medicare for All to pass through the budget reconciliation process—a proposal which Vox called “arguably more radical than simply abolishing the filibuster”—Indivisible determined that allowing the filibuster to stand still “poses a significant barrier to enacting his legislative agenda.”
While Sanders has built a coalition of working people—drawing the largest crowd so far in the key state of Iowa last month and becoming the only candidate to draw contributions from one million individual donors—the senator lost points in Indivisible's grassroots power category because he has endorsed only one progressive primary challenger in a House race thus far.
Warren scored a 97% on Building Grassroots Power for her endorsements of both Marie Newman and Jessica Cisneros and her commitment to building a coalition of members of Congress who will help pass her agenda.
The Center For American Progress has a great piece out about how the filibuster has been used to block a lot of progressive policies to help the country including a Cap and Trade Bill during President Obama’s time in office:
During the Obama administration, Congress attempted to enact a major bill to address climate change. The House of Representatives passed the American Clean Energy and Security Act, which would have set new renewable fuel standards and established a cap-and-trade system for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.86 However, the proposal was never brought to a vote in the Senate. Then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid explained why:
It’s easy to count to 60. I could do it by the time I was in eighth grade. My point is this, we know where we are. We know we don’t have the votes [for a bill capping emissions].87
Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer, then chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee, made the same point more succinctly: “We don’t have the 60 votes.”88 There was also some concern about the bill among moderate Democrats—and therefore some controversy about who to blame for the bill’s demise89—but it is clear that “dropping that threshold to 51 would have completely changed the political dynamics and greatly enhanced the probability of victory.”90 In the words of climate change journalist David Roberts, “Why did cap-and-trade fail? Because of filibuster abuse. That’s the simplest and most directly causal answer.”91
Since the failure of the cap-and-trade bill, no other significant piece of climate change legislation has received consideration in Congress.
In fact, former U.S. Senate Majority and Minority Leader, Harry Reid (D. NV) is echoing Warren’s call to end the filibuster to address climate change:
Former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said this week that should Democrats take control of the upper chamber during the 2020 election, there’s one thing they could do to further efforts to tackle climate change: Kill the filibuster.“The No. 1 priority is climate change,” Reid told The Daily Beast’s Sam Stein in an interview published Wednesday. “There’s nothing that affects my children, grandchildren, and their children, right now, more than climate.”The longtime lawmaker’s comments come as support for ending the filibuster has grown among Democrats in recent years. At the same time, the conversation around climate change has become a campaign talking point for many candidates, and both CNN and MSNBC are planning to hold climate-focused town hall events (the Democratic National Committee is still mulling a full presidential debate on climate change).Some of the Democrats running to unseat President Donald Trump next year have touted the idea as a means to end the legislative tactic that effectively mandates a supermajority of 60 senators be on board with any legislation so it can pass in the chamber. But other 2020 candidates have said they’re unsure if that’s the right path forward, including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who has said he’s “not crazy” about the idea.Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, a 2020 presidential candidate and the only Democrat running on a campaign largely focused on climate change, had earlier called for the end of the filibuster, saying in February that it was “an artifact of a bygone era” that somehow “got grafted on in this culture of the Senate.” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has also expressed support in her campaign for ending the legislative tactic.
And former Presidential candidate, U.S. Senator Kamala Harris (D. CA), called for eliminating the filibuster to pass the Green New Deal:
Democratic presidential hopeful Kamala Harris said she’d fight to end the filibuster if Republicans obstructed the passage of a Green New Deal.At a CNN town hall on the climate crisis Wednesday, the California senator cast doubt over the possibility of bipartisan support for sweeping climate legislation and said she’d consider scrapping the 60-vote threshold for ending debate on legislation in the Senate.Doing so would likely require a Democratic majority in the Senate.“If Republicans continue to block progress, I’ll get rid of the filibuster to pass a Green New Deal,” her campaign tweeted shortly after she made the remarks on TV.Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, who until last month was running as the climate candidate in the 2020 Democratic primary, made eliminating the filibuster a top priority. In April, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a top-polling presidential contender, joined him. Last month, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) told Pod Save America he would end the filibuster to pass gun control legislation.
You cannot have a Political Revolution that addresses serious emergencies like climate change if you allow Moscow Mitch, the self-proclaimed “Grim Reaper of the Senate”, to keep his only weapon, the 60 vote filibuster to kill the Green New Deal. While I understand the arguments for keeping the filibuster, the cons vastly outweigh the pros and we cannot wait for 60 votes to get serious about climate change. That’s why Warren has made abolishing the filibuster a key issue in her plan to battle corruption in the Government and why addressing the abuse of McConnell and the filibuster is the first priority for the next Democratic President. As Reid pointed out in the New York Times months ago, every Democratic candidate running for President should support abolishing the filibuster:
The Senate is now a place where the most pressing issues facing our country are disregarded, along with the will of the American people overwhelmingly calling for action. The future of our country is sacrificed at the altar of the filibuster.
Something must change. That is why I am now calling on the Senate to abolish the filibuster in all its forms. And I am calling on candidates seeking the Democratic nomination for president to do the same.
If a Democratic president wants to tackle the most important issues facing our country, then he or she must have the ability to do so — and that means curtailing Republicans’ ability to stifle the will of the American people. It’s time to allow a simple majority vote instead of the 60-vote threshold now required for legislation. When the American people demand change and elect a new Senate, a new majority leader must be able to respond to that call and pass legislation.
The list of issues stalled by the Senate filibuster is enormous — and still growing.
People ask how it is possible that America is failing to lead on climate change, even as we rapidly approach a catastrophic transformation of our planet that will wreak irreversible havoc on millions of Americans. The answer: the filibuster.
People ask how America — a country that used to set the example for the world on human rights — could tear families apart at the border and put children in cells so overcrowded they cannot lie down. They ask how our country can allow those children to be lost in a labyrinthine system, possibly never reunited with family again. The answer remains the same: the filibuster.
People ask why the federal government hasn’t lifted a finger to stop the growing epidemic of gun violence, despite Americans’ demands for action and overwhelming support for common-sense reforms like universal background checks and bans on high-capacity magazines. They ask how we can stand by as the country suffers tragedy after tragedy and averages more than one mass shooting every single day. The answer once again: the filibuster.
If not for abuse of the filibuster, we would have passed major legislation addressing some of our country’s most pressing issues under President Obama: Millions of undocumented immigrants brought to this country as children would have a pathway to citizenship through the Dream Act; millions of Americans would have a government-run public option as part of health care reform; and the American Jobs Act and the “Buffet Rule” requiring the wealthy pay their fair share of taxes would be law, further strengthening the economy and helping to address the issue of income inequality.
If the Senate cannot address the most important issues of our time, then it is time for the chamber itself to change, as it has done in the past.
The reason Reid has also been helping bring more attention to this is because top Senate Democrats are weighing this option:
Democratic leaders are opening the door to eliminating the 60-vote legislative filibuster if they recapture the Senate majority in the 2020 elections.
The future of the filibuster has emerged as a divisive topic in the crowded 2020 presidential primary field, which includes a half-dozen Democratic senators. Progressives who are pushing to nix it got a boost this week when the two highest ranking Democrats in the Senate didn’t explicitly rule the option out. But even if Democrats won the majority, it would be an uphill battle to get the votes necessary to pass such a controversial rule change.
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) told reporters this week that while his first focus was on winning back the majority, if his party did “nothing is off the table.”
“Our first step is to get back the majority, period. Because without it, all will be lost. If we do, we’ll sit down and figure out the best thing to do to get things done, but we have to get things done and nothing is off the table,” Schumer said.
Sen. Dick Durbin (Ill.), the No. 2 Senate Democrat, told The Hill that he is also “reflecting” on the legislative filibuster.
“I tell ya, I’m reflecting on it now. This is a different Senate. It is unproductive under the current state of affairs,” Durbin said.
Durbin floated that a change will be “needed from what we’re currently working with” but added, “I don’t know what that is yet.”
While it will be difficult to get Senate Democrats on board to kill the filibuster, even the right-wing site, The National Review, pointed out that more Senate Democrats are really thinking about what to do with the filibuster once back in power:
But several other Senate Democrats left the door open to eliminating the filibuster. “That’s an active discussion I’m participating in,” says Maryland’s junior senator Chris Van Hollen. New York senator Kirsten Gillibrand says eliminating the legislative filibuster is “something I’m spending time thinking about because there’s obvious risks when you have a 51-vote threshold when it comes to women’s rights, LGBTQ equality, clean air, clean water. So before I change the filibuster threshold, I need to think long and hard about the unintended consequences.”
“I can only imagine myself being willing to do that where persistent Republican obstruction prevented us from making progress on the core issues facing our country for a long period of time,” says Delaware senator Chris Coons. “Not the first day, not the second day. Not the first months.”
“I would welcome bipartisan reforms in the Senate rules. But I really believe they have to be truly bipartisan with a broad consensus and not forced by one party on the other,” says Maryland’s senior senator Ben Cardin.
Colorado’s Michael Bennet says eliminating the 60-vote requirement requires a “longer conversation.” Virginia’s junior senator Mark Warner says he’s in favor of keeping the filibuster “at this point,” but he also “understand[s] the frustrations” of opponents. Virginia’s senior senator Tim Kaine dismissed the question of scrapping the filibuster: “That’s way out in the future.”
How would Senate Democrats pass a health-care bill if they don’t repeal the filibuster? “I think budget reconciliation probably gives us the scope we need,” Rhode Island senator Sheldon Whitehouse says, referring to the Senate’s annual process for passing legislation with a simple majority.
Warren understand this is going to be a difficult fight ahead as President but she knows that it’s one worth fighting for. But what I also love about Warren is she is strategically ready to get Medicare For All passed through budget reconciliation rules. Ady Barkan defended Warren’s strategy to do so:
Since my diagnosis with ALS three years ago, I have spent much of my time advocating for Medicare for All. Warren shares that goal. And über-wonk that she is, Warren has recently articulated in detail how to pay for and transition to a single-payer health care system. I’ve written previously about why I think her funding plan is smart policy and even smarter politics. Now, I want to explain why I think the same is true of her transition plan.
The plan begins on Day 1 of her presidency, with some important executive actions to lower prescription drug prices and constrain the political power of big health care companies. Then, in her first hundred days, she will ask the Congress to pass a massive expansion and enhancement of Medicare, including a generous Medicare for All option. Here’s what that law would do:
- Radically improve Medicare so it fully covers long-term, dental, vision, hearing, mental health, and substance abuse treatment.
- Lower the eligibility age for Medicare to 50, giving 57 million people the ability to enroll immediately.
- Create a Medicare for All option that offers totally free, comprehensive health care to 135 million Americans—every child under 18 and every person making at or below 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Level (roughly $51,000 for a family of four). Everyone else would have the option to enroll at low cost, capped at 5 percent of income with costs automatically going to zero over time. Giving people the ability to buy in to Medicare immediately ensures that the insurance companies won’t game the system. We know that they, seeing they are getting pushed out of the marketplace, will likely raise premiums for the sickest people and kick many off their existing insurance plans. The buy-in—which is in both the House and the Senate bills—allows us to make sure we protect everyone.
We can and should talk about our strategy and our tactics. But what matters most to me is that Warren is all in for Medicare for All. Her plan says clearly that by the end of her first term, everyone will have comprehensive guaranteed Medicare—whether you are rich or poor, young or old; that there will be no co-pays, premiums, or deductibles; and that we will bring down the costs of health care because private insurance companies will no longer be able to put profit over patients.
There are two facts about the Warren proposal that I especially like. First, it lowers the age of Medicare eligibility to 50 immediately, getting even more people onto Medicare in the first year than Sanders’s bill, which has an eligibility age of 55. Second, Warren also adds in full long-term care, which matches Representative Pramila Jayapal’s Medicare for All bill in the Hosue. That is an enormous addition for our seniors and people with disabilities. I know firsthand just what this will mean for millions of people across our country to have this kind of care available to them.
Warren’s proposal boldly states that she will use budget reconciliation to get many of the changes in her first and second year. This is important, because budget reconciliation requires only 51 votes in the Senate. Republicans use this all the time, and used it for the tax scam they passed last year. But unfortunately, even past Democratic presidents have balked at availing themselves of this simple tool. Warren makes clear that she will use all the tools available to provide Medicare for All–type care to as many Americans and as quickly as she can—and then she will complete the final part of her plan in the last two years by transitioning the remaining people into that same comprehensive care.
Even if Democrats control the entire federal government in 2021, their best-case scenario is a narrow Senate majority that would likely leave Warren far short of the votes to pass Medicare for All. And several key Democrats have pledged not to eliminate the legislative filibuster. But the party is more united around the idea of a government-run insurance option.
The budget fast-track process, known as reconciliation, has been used by majorities in both parties to avoid a filibuster. Democrats under President Barack Obama used it to pass Obamacare in 2010, while Republicans under President Donald Trump tried to use the procedure to repeal the health-care law in 2017 but came up short.
“While Republicans tried to use fast-track budget reconciliation legislation to rip away health insurance from millions of people with just 50 votes in the Senate, I’ll use that tool in reverse – to improve our existing public insurance programs,” Warren wrote.
Still, budget reconciliation creates complications as Senate rules require that such legislation be limited to changes involving taxes and spending. Republicans struggled to shoehorn their attempted repeal of Obamacare, which included regulatory reforms, into the process.
Warren also vowed to take immediate action to lower drug prices in her first day as president, including insulin, EpiPens and drugs that save people from opioid overdoses. A Warren administration would help companies produce expensive medicines as a price-control measure and use administrative authority to ensure sufficient supply.
But you know what almost certainly could not pass via reconciliation? The Medicare for All bill that Sanders has proposed. The problem is that, under the so-called “Byrd rule,” the Senate cannot use reconciliation to pass regulatory changes that only have an “incidental” impact on the budget. While the word “incidental” is open to some degree of interpretation, it’s a real limitation. When Republicans attempted to repeal Obamacare via reconciliation two years ago, the Senate parliamentarian concluded that important parts of their original bill violated the Byrd rule, such as a provision that would have locked adults out of the health insurance market for six months if they let their coverage lapse.
Sanders’ Medicare for All plan would likely have trouble making it through reconciliation because it effectively bans comprehensive private insurance. That’s arguably the defining aspect of his proposal, the thing that makes it a true single-payer system, and it would almost certainly violate the Byrd rule’s restrictions on regulations that only have an “incidental” budget impact.
Using reconciliation would also make it more challenging to finance Medicare for All, since under the Byrd Rule, legislation cannot raise the deficit outside the official budget window. There are ways Democrats could try to get around that limitation—they could pass a 30 or 40 year budget resolution, for instance—but chances are, any health care bill passed via reconciliation would either have to be paid for in full, or designed to expire within a decade (much the way pieces of the GOP’s tax bill are set to sunset).
Warren has proven not only to be a smart Presidential candidate determined to succeed but also to be an effective party leader. That’s what we need to beat Trump and to address serious problems like climate change. Click here to donate and get involved with her Presidential campaign.