No, the Creation of the 60 Vote Senate Isn’t Harry Reid’s Fault

I really dislike this Republican talking point, repeated by former Republican Senator Olympia Snowe at an appearance at the University of Denver:

  • The majority has increasingly “filled up the amendment tree,” making it harder for minority members to have any influence on legislation. 
  • Minority members increasingly respond to this by filibustering.

It’s probably a nice thing for Snowe to believe; it makes her choice to go along with “filibuster everything” seem like a reaction to Democratic overreach rather than going along with a radical, norm-destroying group of Republicans.

But it’s just plain wrong.

I’m pretty sure it’s completely wrong for legislation: filibusters came first, and then filling the tree. I do recall that Mitch McConnell’s immediate reaction to the 2008 election was to remind everyone that it took 60 votes to do anything in the Senate — not that he would reluctantly be forced to make use of filibusters if his conference wasn’t allowed to offer amendments, but just that it took 60 to do anything, as if that had always been the case. Nor do I recall any Republican offers to drop routine filibusters if only their amendments were allowed. Nor have Republicans only filibustered on those bills — not even close to all of them — in which amendments were offered. 

At any rate: as I’ve said before, and I’ll say again when this gets trotted out: we have a perfectly good test on this claim, because if it was true that filibusters were only a reaction to “filling the tree” then it would be happening on legislation only. Nominations do not have amendments! And yet almost every nomination, beginning in January 2009, has been subjected to that same 60 vote requirement — something entirely new at that point.

I’m on the side of the Republicans with respect to amendments — I would very much like to get back to the kind of open amendments situation the Senate has traditionally protected. 

It just has nothing to do with the Republican choice of establishing the 60 vote requirement for almost everything.

[Cross-posted at A plain blog about politics]

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Jonathan Bernstein

Jonathan Bernstein is a political scientist who writes about American politics, especially the presidency, Congress, parties, and elections.