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Democrats Debate Filibuster Changes    03/08 06:21

   With President Joe Biden on the verge of his first big legislative victory, 
a key moderate Democrat says he's open to changing Senate rules that could 
allow for more party-line votes to push through other parts of the White 
House's agenda such as voting rights.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- With President Joe Biden on the verge of his first big 
legislative victory, a key moderate Democrat says he's open to changing Senate 
rules that could allow for more party-line votes to push through other parts of 
the White House's agenda such as voting rights.

   West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin stressed Sunday that he wants to keep the 
procedural hurdle known as the filibuster, saying major legislation should 
always have significant input from the minority party. But he noted there are 
other ways to change the rules that now effectively require 60 votes for most 
legislation. One example: the "talking filibuster," which requires senators to 
slow a bill by holding the floor, but then grants an "up or down" simple 
majority vote if they give up.

   "The filibuster should be painful, it really should be painful and we've 
made it more comfortable over the years," Manchin said. "Maybe it has to be 
more painful."

   "If you want to make it a little bit more painful, make him stand there and 
talk," Manchin added. "I'm willing to look at any way we can, but I'm not 
willing to take away the involvement of the minority."

   Democrats are beginning to look to their next legislative priorities after 
an early signature win for Biden on Saturday, with the Senate approving a $1.9 
trillion COVID-19 relief plan on a party-line 50-49 vote.

   Final passage is expected Tuesday in the House if leaders can hold the 
support of progressives frustrated that the Senate narrowed unemployment 
benefits and stripped out an increase of the federal minimum wage to $15 an 
hour.

   Over the weekend, the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, 
representing around 100 House liberals, called the Senate's weakening of some 
provisions "bad policy and bad politics." But Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., 
also characterized the changes as "relatively minor concessions" and emphasized 
the bill retained its "core bold, progressive elements."

   Biden says he would sign the measure immediately if the House passed it. The 
legislation would allow many Americans to receive $1,400 in direct checks from 
the government this month.

   "Lessons learned: If we have unity, we can do big things," a jubilant Senate 
Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., told The Associated Press in an 
interview after Saturday's vote.

   Still, the Democrats' approach required a last-minute call from Biden to 
Manchin to secure his vote after he raised late resistance to the breadth of 
unemployment benefits. That immediately raised questions about the path ahead 
in a partisan environment where few, if any, Republicans are expected to back 
planks of the president's agenda.

   Democrats used a fast-track budget process known as reconciliation to 
approve Biden's top priority without Republican support, a strategy that 
succeeded despite the reservations of some moderates. But work in the coming 
months on other issues such as voting rights and immigration could prove more 
difficult.

   Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., pledged that Senate Republicans would block 
passage of a sweeping House-passed bill on voting rights. The measure, known as 
HR 1, would restrict partisan gerrymandering of congressional districts, strike 
down hurdles to voting and bring transparency to the campaign finance system. 
It would serve as a counterweight to voting rights restrictions advancing in 
Republican-controlled statehouses across the country in the wake of Donald 
Trump's repeated false claims about a "stolen" election.

   "Not one Republican is going to vote for HR 1 because it's a federal 
takeover of elections, it sets up a system where there is no real voter 
security or verification," Graham said. "It is a liberal wish list in terms of 
how you vote."

   The Senate is divided 50-50, but Democrats control the chamber because Vice 
President Kamala Harris can cast the tie-breaking vote. With 60 votes 
effectively needed on most legislation, Democrats must win the support of at 
least some Republicans to pass Biden's agenda.

   When asked about the voting rights bill, Manchin on Sunday left the door 
open to supporting some kind of a workaround to allow for passage based on a 
simple majority, suggesting he could support "reconciliation" if he was 
satisfied that Republicans had the ability to provide input. But it was unclear 
how that would work as voting rights are not budget-related and would not 
qualify for the reconciliation process.

   "I'm not going to go there until my Republican friends have the ability to 
have their say also," Manchin said.

   On Sunday, the anti-filibuster advocacy group "Fix Our Senate" praised 
Manchin's comments as a viable way to get past "pure partisan obstruction" in 
the Senate.

   "Sen. Manchin just saw Senate Republicans unanimously oppose a wildly 
popular and desperately-needed COVID relief bill that only passed because it 
couldn't be filibustered, so it's encouraging to hear him express openness to 
reforms to ensure that voting rights and other critical bills can't be blocked 
by a purely obstructionist minority," the group said in a statement.

   Manchin spoke on NBC's "Meet the Press," "Fox News Sunday," CNN's "State of 
the Union" and ABC's "This Week," and Graham appeared on Fox News Channel's 
"Sunday Morning Futures."

 
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