The filibuster causes a lot of problems for Democrats. Historically
used only in rare and extreme circumstances, it is now implemented
against almost every single of piece of legislation. It only takes one Senator
to filibuster and 60 Senators to overturn it. This means the Senate
needs at least 60 votes to even discuss, much less vote on, a bill. Now
that Democrats have gone from holding 58 seats to 57 (plus liberal
independent Bernie Sanders and moderate independent Joe Lieberman), the
filibuster could kill health care reform. It could kill Fed chairman Ben Bernanke's reconfirmation. It could kill just about everything Democrats want to pass.
Today Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) channels liberal anti-filibuster frustration by announcing he will propose legislation to repeal the filibuster. Harkin's plan would replace it with a sort of time-release filibuster, whereby 60 votes are still required to overturn it, but that number drops to 57 after two days, 54 after four days, and only 51 after six days. It's clever but extremely unlike to pass--changes to Senate procedural rules require 67 votes to pass, meaning that eight Republicans would have to vote in favor of removing their greatest procedural strength.
- Doomed Debate Would Educate Public Washington Monthly's Steve Benen encourages hashing out the doomed measure. "[T]he debate is worth having, especially if it let's more of the public understand that governing and tackling difficult issues is almost impossible with mandatory supermajorities," he writes. "[O]bstructionist abuse has reached levels unprecedented in American history." Isn't it time more Americans understood how bad the abuse has become?
- Dems Should Really Try For This The Guardian's Steven Guess says the problem has become so severe that Democrats should put all their weight into Harkin's reform, no matter the likelihood or cost of failure. "the time has come for the Senate to function like a representative body once again," he writes. "It may be that ending the filibuster is bad politics, and risks making Democrats look like 'sore losers.'" But, "you can be sure [Americans] were not voting for inaction for the next three years in the face of economic crisis, healthcare crisis, immigration crisis, two wars, and the omnipresent threat of terror."
- 'Uphill Battle' Talking Points Memo's Eric Kleefeld notes that "the frequency of filibusters has risen from once per Congress in the 1950's to 139 in the last one." So the problem is real. But Kleefeld doesn't seem to think Harkin's solution has any real chance.
- What About When Dems Return to Minority? Liberal blogger Agora Americana worries. "From a party-political standpoint, though, I am instinctively repulsed: what about when Democrats require the use of a stall tactic? You know, for once we've finally hoped and changed our way back to a congressional minority? [...] Democrats don't seem to know how to play the game of congressional obstructionism very effectively, and when we do, it tends to be a matter of principle rather than strategy."