Bayh’s unexpected support for filibuster reform

BAYH’S UNEXPECTED SUPPORT FOR FILIBUSTER REFORM…. With renewed interest in reforming the way the Senate does business, it’s encouraging to see support from an unexpected corner: the one Democratic senator who seems to have the spotlight all to himself this week.

The Senate should reform the filibuster as a way to end partisan gridlock, Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) said today.

Bayh, who cited partisanship and incivility as reasons for his retirement, said the filibuster has been used by the Republican minority too frequently.

“Now it’s being routinely used to frustrate even low level presidential appointees,” Bayh told MSNBC…. The Indiana Democrats said it may be time to lower that to 55.

“It’s just brought the process to a halt and the public is suffering,” Bayh said.

Good for Bayh. Indeed, asked specifically whether the rules can be changed before his retirement, the Indiana senator added, “I think it can happen,” adding, “The public has a right to see its business done and not routinely allow a small minority to keep us from addressing the great issues that face this country. I think the filibuster absolutely needs to be changed.”

A pleasant surprise, to be sure, especially after Sen. Chris Dodd’s (D-Conn.) disappointing comments earlier.

It’s often forgotten, but the Senate has altered this threshold before. Before 1975, it took 67 votes to end debate and allow an up-or-down vote. Faced with the prospect of never passing anything, the number was lowered to 60.

Now we’re once again faced with a minority shutting down the legislative process. I’d prefer to see the filibuster disappear altogether, but lowering the threshold to 55 votes, as Bayh suggests, seems like a reasonable compromise.

What’s more, given Bayh’s reputation and media adoration, his support for reforming the dysfunctional status quo has the capacity to make a difference. If Bayh is known for being a leading “moderate” who’s tired of “both parties” and “partisanship” — and he is — then his support for changing the filibuster rules characterizes reform as a necessary, mainstream idea that will help improve how the Senate does business.