The “Extreme Step” of Majority Votes on Legislation

With Republicans taking control of the Senate next month, Mitch McConnell obviously needs to figure out what to do about the change in Senate rules that restored a majority vote standard for executive and non-Supreme Court judicial confirmations. Assuming he’d like to limit the power of the Democratic Senate minority, and also make life easier for a future Republican president, it is generally believed he’ll keep Harry Reid’s changes, with or without eating his own words of outrage over the use of the “nuclear option” to achieve them.

But what makes me crazy is that the commentariat has already internalized the shockingly radical era of filibuster abuse as somehow “normal.” Check out this telling choice of words by Politico‘s Manu Raju in a discussed on a hypothetical resort to the “nuclear option” by McConnell if he did decide to re-deploy the 60-vote threshold for confirmations:

[I]f McConnell were to employ the nuclear option, it could give future majorities even more incentive to use the tactic to further weaken the filibuster — potentially going to the most extreme step of allowing legislation to advance by simple majority support. As a result, many Republicans are skittish about invoking the nuclear option to change the filibuster back to a 60-vote threshold.

It’s a “most extreme step” to let most legislation advance by simple majority support! Talk about revisionist history! The routine filibuster, or to put it another way, the sixty-vote Senate, has all the hoary precedential value of about five years. It has basically coincided, like so many obstructionist excesses, with the GOP effort to fight Barack Obama on every conceivable front, as Ezra Klein noted in a piece on the filibuster back at the beginning of 2013:

From 1917 to 1970, the majority sought cloture fifty-eight times. Since the start of President Obama’s first term, it has sought cloture more than two hundred and fifty times.

And those are the times the majority hasn’t just given up!

It’s far more accurate to call every single day that the reign of the routine filibuster is allowed to persist “extreme.”

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.