Senate Power-Sharing Deal Moves Ahead – The Wall Street Journal

WASHINGTON—Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said that he is ready to move ahead with a power-sharing agreement after two Democratic senators said they won’t support ending the legislative filibuster, a central sticking point for the GOP in the talks.

In a statement released late Monday, the Kentucky Republican said his concerns about the filibuster rule, which requires 60 votes for most legislation to advance, had been assuaged by comments from Democratic Sens.

Kyrsten Sinema

and

Joe Manchin

reaffirming their opposition to its elimination. Their statements earlier in the day signaled that Democrats don’t have the votes needed to kill the filibuster unilaterally, since that would require all 50 of them, plus Vice President

Kamala Harris,

to vote as a bloc.

President

Biden,

who served 36 years in the Senate, said during his presidential campaign that he would prefer to preserve the filibuster, unless GOP resistance to his legislative agenda made eliminating it necessary. Asked Friday whether Mr. Biden still opposes eliminating the filibuster, White House press secretary

Jen Psaki

said: “The president’s position hasn’t changed.”

The Democratic senators “agree with President Biden’s and my view that no Senate majority should destroy the right of future minorities of both parties to help shape legislation,” Mr. McConnell said in a statement Monday night. In his statement, he pointed to a 2001 agreement—the last time there was a 50-50 Senate—as a model for 2021.

Senate Majority Leader

Chuck Schumer

(D., N.Y.) had previously embraced that approach, which gave the parties equal seats on committees and let nominees and bills advance to the floor even if a committee vote was tied.

“We’re glad Senator McConnell threw in the towel and gave up on his ridiculous demand. We look forward to organizing the Senate under Democratic control,” said

Justin Goodman,

a spokesman for Mr. Schumer, in a statement Monday night.

While Mr. McConnell had called the 2001 deal a good guide, he had insisted that Democrats also pledge to keep the filibuster in place. The organizing resolution itself is subject to filibuster, meaning that Republicans could have continued to block it, as long as at least 41 of them were willing to do so.

In the 50-50 chamber, Democrats hold the majority because Vice President Kamala Harris can break any tie votes. Mr. Schumer is the majority leader, but Republicans have continued to run most committees, thanks to Mr. McConnell’s ultimatum on the filibuster.

Mr. McConnell and other Senate Republicans had been holding up an organizing resolution for the new Senate—typically a routine step that sets ground rules and committee assignments—unless they got a commitment from Democrats to preserve the legislative filibuster, a longstanding rule that requires a 60-vote supermajority to bring most bills to the floor. Because it is rare for one party to hold 60 or more seats, proponents of the filibuster say the hurdle forces compromise by giving the minority party power to block legislation they don’t support.

But the filibuster also can lead to gridlock, and some Democratic lawmakers have indicated they would support eliminating the 60-vote threshold so that their narrow Senate majority can more quickly advance Mr. Biden’s agenda.

As long as the filibuster remains in place, Democrats likely will need to get at least 10 Republicans on board to pass many Biden administration priorities, such as an immigration overhaul, voting rights legislation or a minimum-wage increase.

Democrats and Republicans are also trying to find common ground on Mr. Biden’s $1.9 trillion Covid-aid proposal, though some Democrats have floated using a process called budget reconciliation, which fast-tracks some types of bills and requires just 51 votes. That path comes with restrictions, including a limit on how many times it can be used and rules requiring the legislation to have a connection to the budget. For instance, Republicans used reconciliation to pass tax cuts in 2017, and Mr. Schumer said Monday that Democrats could use the tactic if Republicans block their agenda.

“We can get a lot of the Covid bill done with reconciliation,” he said on MSNBC. “And that’s something we certainly will use if they try to block this immediate Covid bill.”

Mr. Schumer said that Democrats would have two chances to use reconciliation procedures, one for the Covid-19 relief package and likely again to advance Mr. Biden’s “Build Back Better” plan. That plan includes a proposal backed by Mr. Schumer to replace the nation’s existing cars, which are powered by internal-combustion engines, with electric vehicles.

Write to Lindsay Wise at lindsay.wise@wsj.com

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Appeared in the January 26, 2021, print edition as ‘McConnell Cedes on Sharing Power, Sees Filibuster Staying.’