Filibuster folly

FILIBUSTER FOLLY…. The to-do list itself is almost overwhelming. After eight years of Republican failure, incompetence, mismanagement, and corruption, Democratic leaders on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue were tasked by the electorate to rescue the economy, resolve two costly wars, improve the struggling job market, address a crushing debt, and fix health care, energy policy, immigration, a housing crisis, a collapsing U.S. auto industry, and the Gitmo mess.

And just to make things really interesting, those same Democratic leaders were told they had to meet a new procedural standard that no governing party in the United States has ever had to overcome: a 60-vote minimum in the Senate on everything.

The New America Foundation’s Michael A. Cohen explains today that it’s this one obstructionist tactic — filibusters and the threat of filibusters — that has stunted policymakers’ ability to function.

Reforming the way Washington operates is hardly the sexiest of topics, but from a policy and even a political perspective, there are few more important issues on which Democrats should be focusing their energy. Quite simply, the filibuster has become the single tool that is undercutting everything Obama and the Democrats were elected to achieve.

Both parties have historically used the filibuster, but its overuse by modern Republicans stands at outrageous proportions…. In effect, majority rule in the Senate has been supplanted by undemocratic, supermajority rule. The filibuster has become a tool to block not just bad legislation but all legislation; it has become so endemic that it is now an institutionalized way of doing business, casting its shadow over everything the Senate does.

To be sure, with a 60-member Senate Democratic caucus, this should, in theory, be an obstacle that can be cleared. But note that this year hasn’t been a consistent 60 — it was 58 until Specter switched. It was 59 until Franken was seated. It was functionally 58 in the midst of Kennedy’s and Byrd’s illnesses. It was 59 after Kennedy’s death.

It’s 60 now, but there are still 58 actual Democrats — one of the caucus members is Joe Lieberman, whose loyalty is limited to his own ego. Even with 60, it only takes one center-right Dem to defeat any bill.

The point, of course, is that 60 shouldn’t be the necessary minimum anyway. If a majority of the House, a majority of the Senate, and the president all agree on a piece of legislation, it should pass. Congress should operate on majority rule.

I like items like Cohen’s, not just because it’s well written and important, but because it’s part of a larger effort to finally get this issue on the table and on the minds of the political world. As his piece noted, what’s needed here is “political will” to address the dysfunctional process that “represents the single greatest threat to the Democratic Party’s progressive agenda and its political future.”