Harkin eyes filibuster reform

HARKIN EYES FILIBUSTER REFORM…. Nearly 15 years ago, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) presented a plan to eliminate the Senate filibuster and allow Congress to pass bills by majority rule. The bill failed miserably, 76 to 19.

Now that obstructionist abuse has reached levels unprecedented in American history — now, literally every bill of any significance needs 60 votes — the need for reform is overwhelming. Harkin signaled a month ago that he intends to revisit the issue, and he’s poised to follow through.

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) intends in the next few weeks to introduce legislation that would take away the minority’s power to filibuster legislation.

Harkin has wanted to change the filibuster for years, but his move would come in the wake of Republican Scott Brown’s dramatic victory in Massachusetts. Brown’s victory cost Democrats their 60th vote in the Senate, and may have dealt a death blow to their hopes to move a massive healthcare overhaul. It could also limit President Barack Obama’s ability to move other pieces of his agenda forward. […]

In a Jan. 4 letter to his colleagues, Harkin noted that filibusters were used just once per Congress in the 1950s, compared to 139 times in the last Congress.

“At issue is a fundamental principle basic to our democracy — rule of the majority as a legislative body,” Harkin wrote. “Elections should have consequences. Yet the Senate’s current rules allow for a minority as small as one to make elections meaningless.”

Harkin proposes a new procedural model: the first go-around, the minority could demand a 60-vote majority, as is the case now. But if 60 votes aren’t there to end debate, a week or so later, 57 votes could bring the bill to the floor for a vote. If 57 votes aren’t there, it drops again and again, and after a month or so, a bare majority could approve cloture.

It would take 67 votes to approve Harkin’s measure, which makes it extremely unlikely that this will succeed. But the debate is worth having, especially if it lets more of the public understand that governing and tackling difficult issues is almost impossible with mandatory supermajorities.

I would also, by the way, encourage Harkin’s office to come up with a helpful frame for the debate. I recommend: restoration of “majority rule.” When a bill reaches the Senate floor, they should count up the “yea” votes, count up the “nea” votes, and the bigger total wins.

That sounds fair, doesn’t it?