JONATHAN COHN JULY 28, 2010
First the good news: Via The Hill, Democratic leaders are thinking seriously about reforming the filibuster:
Democratic leaders in both the House and Senate are pushing for filibuster reform at the start of the new Congress next year.
And now the bad news:
Five Senate Democrats have said they will not support a lowering of the 60-vote bar necessary to pass legislation. Another four lawmakers say they are wary about such a change and would be hesitant to support it.
The nine senators wary of or opposed to abolishing the filibuster include some of the caucus' most conservative members, including Max Baucus, Ben Nelson, and Mark Pryor. And that's hardly surprising.
When it takes 60 senators to pass all legislation, the Democratic leadership has to rely on these people not only for their votes but also for their cache among Republicans. In other words, Democrats aren't going to get Charles Grassley to vote for a bill if Max Baucus doesn't vote for it, too. That's going to matter even more next year, after the elections, if/when the Democrats lose seats and need Grassley (plus a few others) to move legislation.
Of course, the filibuster empowers individual Democrats at the expense of the party as a whole. If it's sixty-votes-or-bust for the next few years, Democrats may be done passing major initiatives.
On a related note, the Guardian's Mike Tomasky reminds readers that the filibuster is a direct affront to the spirit of the Constitution. Seizing on yesterday's campaign finance vote, Tomasky writes
...a bill supported by 59% of the Senate dies because 59% isn't enough of a majority. And please, don't haul out the hoary old "the Senate is supposed to slow things down" stuff. Yes, it is. But it was never supposed to prevent action when clear majorities backed something, as happens frequently today. Here's James Madison, opposing supermajority requirements in all but a few cases (treaty approval, ouster of members):
In all cases where justice or the general good might require new laws to be passed, or active measures to be pursued, the fundamental principle of free government would be reversed. It would be no longer the majority that would rule; the power would be transferred to the minority.
Jim, it's happened.
Update: Jonathan Chait thinks it's only a matter of time before the filibuster goes away:
The rare use of the filibuster survived as long as it did because the legacy of Jim Crow created an odd arrangement where party ties did not correspond to ideology. That era is not going to return. The political environment is competitive and parties are not going to leave a weapon lying on the ground.
That's why the filibuster's days are numbered...