Reform the U.S. Senate

Glenn Hurst is a family physician in southwest Iowa and a Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate.

This week, Iowans received a wake-up call regarding how important it is that their candidate stands firmly on Democratic principles and at the very least supports President Joe Biden’s agenda. The demise of the Build Back Better bill, due to partisanship on the Republican side and a personal agenda of one Democrat, will leave many Iowans struggling without healthcare, without jobs, and without the ability to improve their own lives.

The nation cannot afford another Joe Manchin in the U.S. Senate.

It is sad to see how far this legislation could have moved the country and to watch it fail. This bill would have moved us in the direction that Iowa Democrats have been clamoring for. A direction that we have wanted to move toward but one that our candidates have been shy about supporting.

The Build Back Better legislation would have expanded Medicare, provided affordable childcare, and paid leave for maternity and early child development. It was pared down from $6 trillion to $3.5 trillion to $1.75 trillion and then was decimated by a Democrat who sides closely with Republicans on issues that matter most to Iowans.

Manchin opposes clean energy funding subsidies for utilities. This would have provided support so that they can rapidly add clean power without raising utility rates. The legislation was designed to cut greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030.

But Manchin has personal investments in his coal company in West Virginia. He profits from our dependence on coal for heating and electricity. He is another example of how legislators tied to big business and industry cannot serve the people, even of their own state, fairly.

Even the United Mine Workers of America (the coal miners’ union) wants to see this bill passed. Without it, union mine workers will be left without funding to treat black lung, and will have no access to money for industrial development in locations formerly dependent on coal mining.

He cites debt spending and inflation as causes for concern, both of which are not at issue as Build Back Better is paid for by raising taxes on the wealthy and on corporations.

Only 1 percent of Americans make more than $400,000 per year. Iowa’s top 1 percent makes about $330,000 per year, so less than 1 percent of Iowa’s population would see a tax increase. This bill does not put any burden on the middle class. It asks those who have benefitted from a system set up to make them richer to pay their fair share.

But candidates like Manchin put the very function of our republic at risk. Those like him will leave us in the gridlock all Americans are sick of. Those who oppose Senate rules changes like removing the filibuster, limiting partisan influence, and who do not prioritize the Voting Rights Act are not who we need representing us now.

There is much work to be done.

I support term limits. But if we cannot get a constitutional amendment for term limits, we can certainly limit the influence and power of those who will not move on.

We should institute term limits for leadership roles in Senate committees and sub-committees. Rules reform should also include assuring confirmation hearings are held in a timely manner, not subject to party leadership political agendas. Being in the Senate requires taking a position on a nominee, not cowering from the process, or holding it hostage for political gain 

The filibuster must go as part of a comprehensive Senate rules reform, flipping the burden of delaying a bill by making the minority voice produce 41 votes to continue the debate, instead of requiring the majority to produce 60 votes to end it.

Rules reform would require those who continue debate to actually be on the floor, on their feet, not phoning it in from their office as they are allowed to do currently.

We should strike the reference to the majority or minority party leaders regarding procedures of debate, the introduction of bills, or committee appointments. Such tasks can be managed by seniority and fair distribution of opportunity to all elected Senators.

With Senator Grassley’s vulnerability as a candidate, it is time for Iowans to put forward a candidate who supports Senate rules reform and the president’s agenda for a better America for us all.

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