Perpetuating the 60-Vote Senate

I am not a supporter of the Keystone XL pipeline project. But still, headlines like this one from the New York Times bug me: “Senate Defeats Bill on Keystone XL Pipeline in Narrow Vote.”

Actually the bill to force approval of Keystone XL drew 59 votes, but did not acquire the 60 votes necessary to overcome a filibuster.

Now you can take the position, as I assume many people in both parties do if they think about it at all, that the 60-vote-Senate is a good thing when it benefits your “team” and a bad thing when it benefits the other “team” and just leave it at that. I have little doubt that the moment Republicans obtain simultaneous control of Congress and the White House they’ll deploy their own “nuclear option” and probably apply it to regular legislation instead of just confirmations, despite all their bellyaching about Harry Reid’s long-delayed and partial “nuclear option” destroying the Senate As We Know It etc. etc. It would be just like Democrats to revive the filibuster beast again once they regained power.

If progressives ever want to have a governing majority again, given the heavily skewed nature of the Senate, getting rid of the filibuster in all but truly exceptional situations remains a must. You can even make the argument that at some level perpetual gridlock is worse than the occasional Republican opportunity for national vandalism.

In the present case the forced approval of Keystone XL was probably going to be vetoed by the president, anyway; it would have been the first of many Obama vetoes we are very likely to see during the next two years. I see no particular reason to protect the president from that responsibility. It certainly makes it clearer what life would be like under Republican governance than the earlier practice of Harry Reid deep-sixing House bills the minute they arrived. And in the long run, whatever short-term utility the filibuster sometimes supplies, it remains in essence a profoundly anti-democratic tradition.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.