Could the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill Help Save the Filibuster? 

POLITICS & POLICY
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer attend a bipartisan meeting with Iraq’s Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., July 28, 2021. (Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters)

As Yuval Levin reported a month ago, the “top priority” of Senate Republicans pushing for a bipartisan infrastructure bill is that it could “foil the Left’s efforts to blow up the filibuster.” 

Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell’s decision to vote to open debate on the bill is a pretty clear sign that he too thinks the bill can help preserve the filibuster. North Dakota GOP senator Kevin Cramer tells NBC News that protecting the filibuster is “hugely important” to McConnell, and a bipartisan infrastructure bill “becomes a very clear demonstration that blowing up the filibuster is not necessary to get big things done.” 

The Washington Examiner’s Conn Carroll makes the case that a deal will help protect the filibuster here.

“The heat around that filibuster discussion has lessened considerably as this [bipartisan] effort has progressed,” a GOP Senate aide supportive of the infrastructure deal tells National Review in an interview. “There’s no bigger goal right now for conservatives than protecting the filibuster.” 

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But is a bipartisan bill really necessary to save the filibuster? Haven’t Democratic senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona made enough strong public commitments to keep the 60-vote threshold that there’s no serious threat of the filibuster’s abolition this year or next? 

“Do you think this is a once-and-for-all settled issue in their minds?” the GOP Senate aide replies to those questions. “I am very aware of the human side of this place. They’re human beings, and the political conditions are going to affect them just like they do everybody else. If we create political conditions in which pressure becomes so intense that they feel forced to revisit that decision, then we will regret that.

“It’s one of those things where if we win [on the filibuster], no one will credit this effort,” the aide adds. “But if we don’t do it and then the temperature ramps up so high,” then Manchin and Sinema could “change their mind or find a way to look like they’re just evolving” or support some change to the rules and “claim it’s always consistent with what they’ve always said.”

The case isn’t airtight: If you think Republicans’ going along with $600 billion in new spending will help Democrats gain seats in 2022, those gains are probably a bigger threat to the filibuster than ongoing pressure on Manchin and Sinema. But that’s how Republicans supportive of a deal think it could help protect the filibuster.

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