WATERTOWN — It seems that bipartisanship confers benefits on society only when it flows from one source.
U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., has become the latest villain du jour in the popular culture. His crime amounts to believing that legislators should reach across the aisle. He had the audacity to publicly express his views on the value of ideological diversity when it comes to crafting public policies.
Manchin wrote a column titled “Why I’m voting against the For the People Act,” published June 6 in the Charleston (W.Va.) Gazette-Mail. The bill in question seeks to repeal various measures implemented in Republican-dominated states revising specific voting practices.
The U.S. House of Representatives passed the For the People Act on March 3 by a vote of 220-210. But Democrats in the U.S. Senate lack the 60 votes necessary to avoid a Republican filibuster and advance the legislation.
Manchin has steadfastly maintained his support for the filibuster, even though this stops some measures favored by his party in their tracks. In his column, he said the filibuster compels lawmakers in Congress to cooperate.
His advocacy on behalf of bipartisanship drew sharp criticism. U.S. Rep. Jamaal Bowman, D-Yonkers, said during an interview on CNN’s “New Day” that, “Joe Manchin has become the new Mitch McConnell.” Bowman mirrors the annoyance that many Democrats feel toward their more independent-minded colleague.
Many news outlets have placed more emphasis on Manchin’s opposition to the For the People Act than on actually examining the legislation. This is unfortunate because the bill needs to be thoroughly scrutinized before being implemented.
The Brennan Center for Justice cited some commonly used talking points about the bill. The group said it “would make it easier to vote in federal elections, end congressional gerrymandering, overhaul federal campaign finance laws, increase safeguards against foreign interference [and] strengthen government ethics rules …”
Supporters tout the bill — introduced last year by U.S. Rep. John Sarbanes, a Democrat from Maryland — as a counter to Republican moves to suppress voting. Several GOP-controlled legislatures have passed laws altering measures enacted in response to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
At nearly 800 pages long, this legislation turned into a legal monstrosity seeking to address virtually every Democratic concern with the electoral process. It’s an all-encompassing bill through which progressives intend to resolve all the qualms they have over Republican policies.
Measures to impede voting among some demographic groups remain a serious concern. Republican-backed bills appear hell bent on correcting some voting problems that don’t exist. This leads skeptics to presume that members of the GOP have ulterior motives in passing such legislation.
However, this fails to justify the egregious provisions contained within the For the People Act. While he neglected to outline his specific objections to the bill in his column, Manchin has good reason to oppose it.
(For a more in-depth treatment of the problems with the For the People Act, read the work of two writers: an April 8 essay by John O. McGinnis titled “Of, By and For the Party” on the website LawLiberty.org and a June 2 column titled “Democrats’ big voting bill is constitutional vandalism” by George F. Will of the Washington Post.)
For one thing, portions of the bill violate the U.S. Constitution! This legislation aims to enforce uniform voting procedures throughout the country.
The Constitution, by and large, leaves this process up to the states. So in the supposed cause of preserving democracy, Congress would overrule the very officials designated by the Constitution to carry out democracy.
This discards the will of the people who elected these representatives. You don’t show respect for the democratic system by running roughshod over the document that makes democracy possible.
Some congressional Democrats have said their GOP colleagues can’t be trusted because of their ongoing efforts to derail any bill they promote. There is a lot of truth to this. Republicans have spent years obstructing measures from Democrats without offering their own alternatives.
But Democrats have played this game as well. They’ve used what tools they have available to block the GOP’s agenda.
And as Manchin pointed out in his column, 35 of the Senate’s 46 Democratic members wrote a letter in 2017 to U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer — then the minority leader — urging him to save the filibuster. It’s funny how this controversial mechanism is a hindrance when you have the voting advantage in the Senate but a necessity when you don’t!
Manchin correctly stated that collaborative work among Democrats and Republicans produces better legislation. And they would have an easier time accomplishing this if they declined from sponsoring massive bills.
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is a textbook example. It contained everything — and then some — to try to fix health care.
This was the wrong approach. I long argued that lawmakers should have broken the ACA into several pieces of legislation. Democrats and Republicans could have spent time reaching agreements on specific issues and then moving on to the next item.
They should follow this method when it comes to problems they want to address through the For the People Act. Identify the most pressing issues, and find common ground on those first. Then cooperate on other bills to resolve additional disputes.
Most legislative moves to cure all problems in one fell swoop are doomed to fail. Focusing on specific concerns allows lawmakers to make the necessary compromises to advance meaningful bills.
But cramming them with anything and everything makes it more likely that rivals will find something in a bill to oppose. In a society as politically diverse as ours is, bipartisanship is vital. One-party rule is a direct path to tyranny.
Manchin’s critics shouldn’t condemn him for adhering to this principle. They should work with rivals to identify problems with the For the People Act and resolve them. This will prove a better way to address the threats they perceive with democracy in the United States than ignoring Americans who have different perspectives on this issue.
Jerry Moore is the editorial page editor for the Watertown Daily Times. Readers may call him at 315-661-2369 or send emails to email@example.com. They also may follow him on Twitter: @WDT_OpEd.