Issue 5 Magazine Opinions

What the Senate’s 50-50 Split Means for America

By Cameron Pitzak

The election in Georgia has been decided, with senators Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock taking two previously Republican seats. This has led to a lot of excitement among Democrats because with these two seats, they technically have a majority in the senate with the added tiebreaker vote from Vice President Kamala Harris, who acts as President of the Senate. While many thought this would give the Democrats a chance to finally push forward legislation, this isn’t completely the case.

In the Senate, it is possible to filibuster, which is the act of taking advantage of the rule in the Senate that allows unlimited debate time, infinitely prolonging the legislative process by giving constant speeches for hours on end. In order to stop a filibuster, the senate can invoke cloture, which allows the senate to end the debate as long as they have three-fifths of the Senate votes. Right now it would take 60 votes from senators to actually pass any laws that are more favorable to the Democrats as Republicans have a long history of using the filibuster. For example, Republicans used it to try and stop the civil rights movement for as long as possible.

At this moment, it will be virtually impossible for the Democrats to get the required 60 votes due to the incredible polarization between Republicans and Democrats over the Trump presidency. However, it is still possible for President Joe Biden to eliminate the filibuster as there have been debates over whether or not it is a good rule for decades now. Top Democrats like former President Barack Obama have argued that Joe Biden should only remove the filibuster if Republicans use it to obstruct voting rights legislation.

While it may now seem as if the Democratic majority doesn’t mean anything at all, it does actually serve one purpose. When Republicans had senate control, they were essentially able to just block any bill that would have come to the senate floor and not even bother to vote on it. But now, Democrats can now force Republicans to to actually vote on legislation, which hasn’t even been happening before. Now when voting for bills concerning voting rights and healthcare, Republicans can finally be publicly held responsible for going against legislation, putting pressure on Republican seats. If voters see that their representatives are voting against new health care measures, voting rights, and other democratic legislation that tends to be popular across party lines, they can easily feel the need to remove Republican seats when midterm elections come around in 2022.

Here is a list of a few bills that the people should keep their eyes on and see how Congress reacts to them. 

To repeal the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002. To repeal Public Law 107-40. Both sponsored by Rep. Barbra Lee (D-CA) This vote will probably be glossed over by a lot of people, but it will actually have a huge effect. The first bill to repeal the AUMF Against Iraq Resolution of 2002, was the bill that allowed the US to go to war with Iraq under the justification that they had “Weapons of Mass Destruction” and the second bill, to repeal Public Law 107-40, was the bill that allowed the President to declare war on anyone that could be held responsible for the 9/11 attacks. Now almost two decades after these events, most people have come to the conclusion that nothing good has come out of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. In reality, many people probably forgot we were still even fighting there. So now it’s up to congress to decide if there is a reason to continue fighting. It’s significant that Barbra Lee was the one to sponsor these bills, as she was the only House Representative that voted against Public Law 107-40, in a 420-1 vote. She has still held true to her belief that the war in Afghanistan was a rash decision made in a moment of fear and mourning.

To prohibit the imposition of the death penalty for any violation of federal law, and for other purposes. To abolish the death penalty under federal law. Sponsored by Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) and Rep. Adriano Espaillat (D-NY). These bills, if passed, will be a huge part of American history. Currently 28 States still allow capital punishment. Since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, 1,529 inmates were executed, and there are still more scheduled to die. As of October 1, 2021, there were 2,553 prisoners on death row. In California, only 13 people have been executed since 1976, though California is also the state currently with the greatest number of death row prisoners, totaling up to 711 according to information provided by the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, DC.

To address the fundamental injustice, cruelty, brutality, and inhumanity of slavery in the United States and the 13 American colonies between 1619 and 1865 and to establish a commission to study and consider a national apology and proposal for reparations for the institution of slavery, its subsequent de jure and de facto racial and economic discrimination against African Americans, and the impact of these forces on living African Americans, to make recommendations to the Congress on appropriate remedies, and for other purposes. Sponsored by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) This would actually be the first time the US government considered giving reparations to those that have been affected by slavery, and would be a huge step towards facing our dark past.