Buying Democracy in a Good Way

Brian Beutler tweeted something this week that got me thinking about ways the Democrats can get around a Republican filibuster on voting rights: make it about money. The key problem facing any voting rights measure is that the Republicans are determined to filibuster anything that limits the ability of states to suppress the vote or gerrymander congressional and legislative districts.

At the moment, at least two Democratic senators (Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona) seem unwilling to go along with voting to weaken the filibuster to allow voting rights measures to pass with a simple majority. As a result, it is hard to see how anything can pass.

But, the Democrats can pass bills that involve appropriations with a simple majority through the reconciliation process. This is where the point that Brian made comes in, we can make voting rights about money.

Suppose the next reconciliation bill included a provision that gave $1,000 per person to every adult living in a state where the districts are drawn by an independent commission, where basic provisions of access are guaranteed (e.g. two weeks of early voting, no excuse absentee voting), and where elections are run by career civil servants and cannot be overturned by elected officials. We should probably throw in some provisions about mandatory five-year prison terms for harassing or threatening election officials.

This is a straight up appropriation bill, it’s not telling states what they have to do, so it should pass muster for reconciliation. It may be the case that Republican states will still insist on their voter suppression measures and rigged districts, and look to blow off the money, as they did with Medicaid expansion, but this would be a very different story.

Medicaid expansion was largely seen as benefitting poor people and people of color. In this case, the issue is $1,000 that would go directly into the pocket of real Americans. It should be a great election issue that Republican governors and legislators pulled $1,000 out of their pockets so that they could rig the elections and keep their friends in office.

I suppose the Republicans can argue that voter suppression and gerrymandered districts are a matter of basic rights that are more important than money, but I’m not sure that would be a winning position. In any case, I really would love to find out.

This first appeared on Dean Baker’s Beat the Press blog.

Dean Baker is the senior economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, DC.