D.C. Democrats, including President Joe Biden, are once again targeting the filibuster, floating a plan to eliminate it for a vote to raise the debt ceiling. On Wednesday morning, Delaware Democrat Sen. Chris Coons told CNN “there very well may be” 50 votes in the Senate to change the filibuster rules to allow for a simple majority vote on the debt ceiling. Coons spoke of “a lot of passion in the caucus” given the current game of chicken with Senate Republicans on the issue.
By Wednesday evening Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) had repeated yet again his opposition to undermining the filibuster rule, a rule he and his fellow Democrats used repeatedly during the Trump presidency. In fact, in April, 2017, a bipartisan group of more than 60 U.S. Senators signed a letter urging then-Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell to preserve the legislative filibuster.
Among those defending the filibuster: Senators Maggie Hassan and Jeanne Shaheen.
But now that President Biden is saying eliminating the filibuster, at least for raising the debt ceiling, “is a real possibility,” where are New Hampshire’s two U.S. Senators? Are they standing by their defense of the rule, or are they following their fellow Democrats who’ve flipped on the issue?
Neither senator would respond to questions about their current position on the filibuster.
For months Democratic leadership in the Senate strategized that they could get enough Republican votes for raising the debt ceiling to reach the 60 vote threshold for cloture. But in response to the Democrats’ decision to move forward on a purely partisan basis with their $3.5 trillion social programs spending plan, Republicans are sitting on the sidelines.
“Since mid-July, Republicans have clearly stated that Democrats will need to raise the debt limit on their own. All year, your party has chosen to pursue staggering, ‘transformational’ spending through unprecedented use of the party-line reconciliation process,” McConnell said. “I have relayed this reality to your Democratic lieutenants for two and a half months.”
The liberal New Republic magazine concedes that McConnell is correct: “[Democrats can] Revise the existing budget resolution for fiscal year 2022, which was used to set instructions to craft the reconciliation bill. The revised resolution can ask the Senate Finance Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee to raise the debt limit to some dollar amount.”
Instead, Democrats like Sen. Chris Murphy (D., Conn.) are pushing to pass a rule change to kill the filibuster for debt ceiling votes. This is possible thanks to then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid invoking the “nuclear option” allowing the Senate to change any rule (including the filibuster) with just 50 votes.
Which means the Biden-backed proposal to end the filibuster on the debt vote still needs all 50 Democrat votes. Some Senators clearly believe that, other than Manchin, they’re close. Are Hassan and Shaheen on board?
New Hampshire voters aren’t.
In a March 2021 Granite State Panel conducted by the UNH Survey Center, just 30 percent of respondents said they support eliminating the filibuster. Among New Hampshire independents, that number is just 17 percent. (Another 15 percent of all voters say they’d support changing the rule to a “talking filibuster.”)
The filibuster has been part of the Senate in some form since at least the 1840s. The requirement of a two-thirds vote to end debate and bring a bill to the floor, aka “cloture,” was codified into Senate rules in 1917.
Before she signed the 2017 letter defending the filibuster, killing it had been a cause near and dear to Shaheen for more than a decade.
In 2010, Shaheen co-sponsored a resolution with progressive Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) to change the filibuster rules so that legislation would eventually pass with a simple majority. In 2011 and 2013, she backed another set of proposals to change or override the filibuster proposed by Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.).
Interestingly, during those years, Democrats were in the majority. After Republicans took control in 2014, Shaheen began suggesting that keeping the filibuster protection for the minority party might be a good idea.
In June, Shaheen and Hassan told WMUR they opposed ending the filibuster but supported some “reforms.” Could those “reforms” include a rule change for the debt ceiling? If Democrats don’t use the existing rules to get it done, New Hampshire voters may find out.