Harkin to take another shot at the ‘dinosaur’?

HARKIN TO TAKE ANOTHER SHOT AT THE ‘DINOSAUR’?…. Nearly 15 years ago, two Democratic senators — Joe Lieberman and Tom Harkin — decided that the filibuster had become an institutional menace. They called the parliamentary maneuver a “dinosaur” that had become “a symbol of a lot that ails Washington today,” and presented a plan to kill the filibuster once and for all.

It was after the election in which Republicans claimed congressional majorities, but the two Dems said it didn’t matter — even if the GOP would find it easier to pass legislation, the Senate needed to be able to pass bills by majority rule. (That year, there were 39 cloture motions filed. Last year, there were 139.) Their bill failed miserably, 76 to 19.

We now know, 15 years later, that filibuster abuse has gone completely mad, institutionalizing obstructionism at a level never before seen in American history. Lieberman, of course, is a shell of his former self, and now embraces the tactic he once denounced. But what about the progressive Iowan? (via Gerry Canavan)

Given what he sees as the abuse of power by a couple members of his own party whom he said are threatening to join the minority party if their every demand is not met, Harkin is considering reintroducing the legislation.

“I think, if anything, this health care debate is showing the dangers of unlimited filibuster,” Harkin said Thursday during a conference call with reporters. “I think there’s a reason for slowing things down … and getting the public aware of what’s happening and maybe even to change public sentiment, but not to just absolutely stop something.” […]

Regardless of its origins, Harkin said the filibuster has outlived its usefulness. “Today, in the age of instant news and Internet and rapid travel — you can get from anywhere to here within a day or a few hours — the initial reasons for the filibuster kind of fall by the wayside, and now it’s got into an abusive situation,” Harkin said.

He and the constitutional scholars agree that the intention was never to hold up legislation entirely.

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.

I have no idea what kind of support Harkin’s measure would get, but it’s bound to get more than 19 votes. Here’s hoping he gives it a shot and we find out.