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Congress’s Convoluted Summer

April 3rd, 2021 by dk

Here’s an entirely speculative survey of how agendas and timelines may overlap and intersect for the 117th Congress this summer. Voting rights, filibuster reform, infrastructure bills, Congressional earmarks, and even competing with China could factor in.

Congress seldom worries about missing a deadline. Continuing resolutions have become a way of life in Washington. But this summer will be different because of decennial redistricting. The states need time to redraw Congressional districts before party primaries, ahead of 2022 midterm elections. All the pieces must fall into place this summer.

For Democrats, everything revolves around the For The People Act, a.k.a. H.R. 1, which passed the House a month ago. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has already given the bill the honorific first place on the Senate’s agenda, but no one knows when S 1 will receive its floor vote.

The For the People Act would block Republican efforts to curb voting rights at the state level. It addresses gerrymandering, dark money, early voting, and campaign finance reforms. It doesn’t reduce the national voting age to 16 or grant DC statehood, but it does almost everything else.

Republicans wouldn’t vote for this bill even if it included putting Donald Trump on the dollar bill. They are determined to suppress votes in every way possible. They have promised to filibuster the bill in the Senate and no one believes they won’t. It won’t fit as part of a budget reconciliation bill. So Democrats’ only hope involves first reforming the filibuster.

Here’s where timelines overlap. Democrats are not yet unanimous on the need to alter or abandon the filibuster. Public opinion isn’t demanding it — yet. The case must be made, both internally and externally.

On the inside, Democrats are reintroducing earmarks, rebranded as “member-directed spending.” House Republicans have agreed to not oppose them. Senate Republicans may not go along, but that might not matter. That could change the messaging, but little else.

What do earmarks have to do with voting rights or filibuster reform? Earmarks could help persuade Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) to follow Schumer’s lead. Democratic Senators in safely blue states could conceivably devote their earmark allowances to projects that help West Virginia and Arizona.

On the outside, the moral case against the filibuster is unfolding. It has consistently been used to suppress civil rights. Thanks to the filibuster, Congress has never made lynching a federal crime. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) foiled the last attempt in 2020.

Internal and external pressure will mount if the Senate cannot pass something simple — a legislative lay-up. Look for a package of measures to strengthen local companies against Chinese competitors. It could be a wish-list of long overdue infrastructure projects.

If and when Republicans refuse to support a bill that promises benefits for everyone, legislative disfunction will become undeniable. Once Republican obstruction is exposed, filibuster reform will be thrust onto the Senate’s agenda, as if they had no choice. 

All this must happen before summer’s end because redistricting and 2022 elections will cement changes in Congress that could last a decade.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at

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