Manchin and Sinema Defend the Filibuster Because the Filibuster Defends Corporate Power

The filibuster is not about democratic checks or minority rights. The filibuster is about giving corporations veto power over the economy — which is why Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema defend it.

As Senators Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) and Joe Manchin (D-WV) defend the filibuster and block voting rights legislation, corporate media keeps repeating the lie that the two are doing so because they care deeply about Senate rules and tradition. By doing so, news outlets are refusing to admit the obvious: Sinema and Manchin are just the latest of the Senate’s many corrupt puppets who want to help corporate lobbyists preserve their legislative kill switch.

Amid the high-concept discourse about voting rights, historical precedent, and The Greatest Deliberative Body In The World™, big business has been telegraphing what the filibuster actually is. It is not about democracy or minority rights or any other maudlin subplot from a West Wing episode — it is about something much more raw and ugly. It is about giving capital veto power over the economy, as the most powerful corporate lobby group in Washington effectively admits.

Indeed, the US Chamber of Commerce has publicly opposed filibuster reform for this very reason. Last year, the organization gloated to its members that the rule would prevent Democrats from passing a minimum wage hike or legislation to make it easier for workers to form a union.

“Because of the filibuster, neither can become law as currently written,” the Chamber effused. In a letter to lawmakers, the Chamber expressed concern that without the filibuster, voters could have the power to (gasp!) elect new lawmakers who could actually change public policy.

“Imagine if major portions of federal policy constantly changed on a purely partisan basis every time one or the other party finds itself in unified control of the government,” the group lamented in March 2021 in talking points that have been echoed by Manchin.

And yet, even as Manchin and Sinema parrot Chamber spin — and even as they selectively vote to waive the filibuster when it doesn’t offend corporate power — the two are routinely portrayed as mavericky iconoclasts operating on principle, rather than hucksters lip-synching lyrics from their business boosters.

That is the real story here — and yet it is verboten. Corporate media refuses to tell the story of the money behind the filibuster — even though it is out in the open for everyone to see.

Democratic leaders could spotlight this grift, but instead they are showing their real loyalties when they continue refusing to force Manchin and Sinema to actually vote on the party’s health care, climate, and anti-poverty legislation that their corporate donors oppose.

And at least one of their most prominent defenders, Democratic consultant Paul Begala, is already on national television screaming the quiet part out loud and saying “the problem for the Democrats right now is not that they have bad leaders, they have bad followers” — as if voters’ job is to serve the party, not the other way around.

The easiest way to follow the filibuster money is to do what corporate media outlets refuse to do: just read the website of the Chamber — a group whose name evokes images of local Elks Club dinners and Main Street businesses, but which is actually a $170 million-a-year lobbying behemoth representing the largest corporations in the world.

The Chamber published a memo last year explaining why the filibuster is so important for businesses.

“For example, within two months, the House of Representatives has passed a $15 national minimum wage and a radical rewrite of U.S. labor law known as the PRO Act,” the organization wrote. “Because of the filibuster, neither can become law as currently written. In a world without the filibuster, both might be the law of the land . . . that is until a Republican unified government repealed them.”

Last March, the Chamber issued a warning to lawmakers that its annual scorecard — which the organization uses to determine its political endorsements — would penalize any senators who vote to reform the filibuster, which currently allows a minority of senators to extend debate on a bill indefinitely unless the majority party can find sixty votes to end cloture.

The organization said it would additionally punish any senators who vote to overrule the advice provided by the senate parliamentarian — an unelected adviser who, under the so-called Byrd rule, can recommend that lawmakers remove certain provisions from budget reconciliation bills if they deal with policy, rather than spending.

The Chamber delivered this threat one day before eight Democratic senators — including Manchin and Sinema — joined with Republicans in voting down an amendment to overrule the parliamentarian’s advice and include $15 minimum wage legislation in Democrats’ COVID-19 spending bill.

Sinema and Manchin’s actions have won them plaudits and campaign cash from the Chamber.

The Chamber shared a Reuters story reporting that the organization has been “backing Democratic senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema with campaign contributions, rewarding them for their opposition to some of President Joe Biden’s legislative initiatives and for trying to work with Republicans.”

A few months later, the Chamber bestowed Sinema and Manchin with awards for bipartisanship, giving them 100 percent and 98 percent scores, respectively, for working across party lines to boost corporate priorities.

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