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Not everything is partisan in politics: President Joe Biden, a Democrat, and Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, a Republican, sing in unison.
Frustrated by supermajority requirements to pass favorable legislation through their respective senates, each took the position that simple majorities should prevail over important public policy votes.
Biden made his speech this week, saying the US Senate, where he once served, should change its rules so that a simple majority of 51 members is required to approve the voting rights legislation he supports. Under current rules, 60 of 100 senators are needed, making it easy for Republicans and their numerical minority to block Democrats and their numerical majority.
It’s not at all certain that Biden’s team would prevail even with a rule change. But it is certain that without it, the suffrage bill is doomed.
Patrick is not on the president’s side when it comes to this ballot legislation. But he feels the same about majorities, a sentiment he has expressed repeatedly since entering public service 15 years ago. As a small governor, and before that as a Houston state senator, Patrick spoke out against rules and traditions that require the consent of a super majority of senators before legislation can be debated. .
For years, this was known as the two-thirds rule. It required the approval of 21 of the state’s 31 senators before a bill could be debated in most circumstances, and it prevented consideration of legislation with narrower majorities. That didn’t seem fair to Patrick, who was part of the Republican majority in the Senate but often pushed legislation that didn’t have enough support. Unless Republicans had 21 members — and all of those members were in favor of a particular bill — they didn’t have the political juice to debate, let alone do anything about it.
Patrick complained about it early on, in his first term in 2007: “We should have simple majority voting. What happened to majority rule? What about Jefferson, Madison and Monroe? Everything suited them. »
The Senate had 21 Republicans at the time, but Houston’s freshman was buried. The Senate voted 30 to 1 to keep the rule in place and used it to thwart legislation on voter ID, abortion, school vouchers and guns, to name a few- one.
When Patrick became lieutenant governor, the Senate had 20 Republican members, and he got them to change the rule to require 19 senators — three-fifths — instead of 21. Last year, the Senate had 18 Republicans; they changed the rule to five-ninths, meaning that 17 senators are now required to present a bill for consideration.
And over the years, the Senate (along with the House) passed legislation that had been blocked by the old rules, requiring voter ID, restricting abortion in the state, and making it legal for most adults in Texas carrying handguns without a license or training.
When it comes to Senate procedure, Patrick is a man after Biden’s heart.
And Biden ran into the same sort of hurdle Patrick faced 15 years ago: The Senate doesn’t seem to want to change its rules. Arizona Democrat Kyrsten Sinema spoke out on Thursday against the president’s desire to change Senate filibuster rules, though she said she supports the voting legislation he touts.
This is how it happens when legislative majorities are small and battles depend on how the rules work. Lawmakers play the rules to their advantage. And when they do succeed — and playing the rules that way is something federal and state lawmakers are very good at — their opponents often have no choice but to resort to the tactics chosen by Patrick and Biden.
This is not partisan politics. It’s parliamentary politics, played by people from all parties: if you can’t win under the current rules, you can quit or you can change the rules.