Gerson’s notion of ‘normal’

GERSON’S NOTION OF ‘NORMAL’…. There are quite a few errors of fact and judgment in Michael Gerson’s latest anti-Obama column, premised on the notion that the president is “the most polarizing new president of recent times.” The general gist of the piece is that Obama needs to do a lot more to make Republicans happy, or he’ll be a “source of division.”

But let’s just focus on this point from Bush’s former chief speechwriter:

That makes last week’s votes on the budget resolutions a landmark of ineffective governance. Not a single Republican in the House or Senate supported the bill, largely because the Democratic majority forced its will. Republicans were flattened, not consulted. Democratic leaders talk of enacting controversial elements of the budget through the “reconciliation” process — which would require 51 Senate votes, not the normal 60, for passage.

Now, there are a lot of problems contained in these three sentences. For example, Republicans balked at the Democratic budget, not because Obama was mean to them, but because they preferred an insane alternative. What’s more, Republican leaders enacting controversial proposals through the “reconciliation” process — tax cuts, welfare reform, Medicaid reductions — and Gerson didn’t seem to think it was particularly outrageous at the time.

But what really gets me is the notion that to pass legislation, the Senate should aim for “the normal 60” votes.

This is simply wrong. There’s nothing “normal” about this. Gerson buys into the all-too-common notion that the Senate has always required a 60-vote supermajority to pass every meaningful piece of legislation. That’s nonsense.

This 60-vote standard is a modern creation, and routine filibusters on all bills are a new tradition. Gerson considers it “normal,” when in fact it’s a bizarre fluke with no foundation in the American legislative or political tradition.

It is, as this chart from Norm Ornstein makes clear, an entirely modern creation.


To suggest the majority needs 60 votes for passing every bill is anything but “normal.”

Support Nonprofit Journalism

If you enjoyed this article, consider making a donation to help us produce more like it. The Washington Monthly was founded in 1969 to tell the stories of how government really works—and how to make it work better. Fifty years later, the need for incisive analysis and new, progressive policy ideas is clearer than ever. As a nonprofit, we rely on support from readers like you.

Yes, I’ll make a donation