The recent passing of the disappointingly small $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill, which was cut down by members of the party backing it, has shown a major problem with how our democracy functions. While the problem is obvious, the way our two-party system operates makes it nearly impossible to avoid. At first, this bill was meant to be a $2.6 trillion ticket to Joe Biden’s reelection. With the Democrats holding a majority in the House and Vice President Kamala Harris’s tie-breaking vote in the Senate, it should’ve been an easy win for Biden and the American people had it not been for the two individuals who’ve been dominating the news over the last couple months: Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz. and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. Despite the party they supposedly belong to, they have both made a reputation for going against their party at the most pivotal moments. Sinema and Manchin’s recent escapades in screwing over their own party show one of the main failings of the two-party system: by splitting our legislation into just two opposing ideologies, it empowers those on the fringe to halt any significant change.
This issue stems out of how our current political climate has come to be completely dominated by just two political parties who have become so completely polarized that any similar opinions are seen as a rarity. This polarization is somewhat of a recent change in the American political climate and demands that members of any one party vote for their own side in order for them to have any chance of passing legislation, especially in the currently 50/50 split Senate. When this system runs smoothly, it can be very effective for getting legislation passed, even though it may be frustrating for the party that doesn’t hold the majority. The issue arises when either one or a few in any given party decide to deviate from what their party supports, and in the case of Manchin and Sinema, what their constituents and the American people at large support. Since any major bill presented by their party will most likely be met with unanimous dissent from the opposing party, these two are pretty much able to change how these bills look at a whim, or just vote them down outright. This could not have been more apparent in the past few months while Joe Biden and the Democrats were trying to get the infrastructure bill passed. Sinema and Manchin were very vocal in that they considered the bill to spend far too much, and that they wanted it to be cut back. Another theory could be that they were motivated to be against this bill by Sinema’s Big Pharma donors, or Manchin’s donors from the oil and gas industry, both of whom would be directly hurt by this bill. This led to months of negotiations wherein much of the original bill was cut out, such as free community college, the renegotiation of drug prices and expansions to Medicare.
This is where the real problem with the power Sinema, Manchin and other moderates hold shows itself. Beyond being a problem for their party, many of the bills they decide to divert on, such as the infrastructure bill and the minimum wage hike that eight Democrats voted against earlier this year, have much more of an impact on the lives of working-class Americans than the average bill. A hike in the minimum wage can mean the difference between whether or not a child is food insecure, and the drug renegotiations that were cut out of the infrastructure bill earlier this year means that many will continue to be unable to afford life-saving medications. While many see what these politicians are doing as a stunt for the press, giving themselves the opportunity to come off as some sort of contrarian or free-thinker that can receive respect from people on both sides of the aisle allows their decisions to have long-lasting and sometimes devastating impacts on the lives of those who need help the most.
With the way our political system works, there’s not much that can be done to stop politicians like Sinema and Manchin from halting change. Sadly, that would mostly be correct beyond voting people like them out of office, which is especially hard with senators’ six-year terms. There are, however, changes that can be made to restructure politics in a way that would not only allow for more change to happen but also for Americans to be more accurately represented in politics. The first and probably the most widely known change that could be made would be the introduction of ranked-choice voting. Ranked-choice voting allows voters to rank their choices for who they’d like to take office, allowing voters to vote for a wider range of parties they support, while still giving their actual vote to the party they chose that received the most votes overall. This alone could disrupt the current chokehold the Democratic and Republican parties have on our political system, and allow other parties to slowly come into power, making it harder for politicians on the fringe to be able to change the outcome of important policy decisions. Some other options would include eliminating the electoral college or a parliamentary system where parties hold an amount of seats proportional to the amount of votes they received.
It is evident that people like Manchin and Sinema hold too much power over the functioning of our legislative branch, with it having devastating impacts on the lives of working-class Americans. While it may seem like an impossible task to change the way the entire system works, it truly is vital in order for any real change to come into effect.
Keoni Jones is an Opinion Columnist and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.