Yes, I’m blogging a lot about filibusters — because it’s really the biggest open question in determining how the federal government will operate for the next two years, and because the decision will probably come soon. Don’t believe me? See Steve Benen’s updated chart on the explosion of filibusters since Democrats took the majority in the Senate.
The latest news is that the advocates of reform are still pushing hard, and still counting votes.
Democratic holdouts are correct to be concerned about the effects of radical reform. Not only will Democrats wind up in the minority at some point in the future and want those protections, but without careful design reform could easily turn the Senate into a second House of Representatives. It’s very understandable that individual senators want to protect their own rights and don’t want to transfer their influence to their party leadership.
But that’s why reluctant Democrats should sign on — and develop their own reform package. Do reluctant Democrats, for example, really believe that a 60-vote Senate is needed to prevent majority tyranny and to preserve the importance of individual senators? They shouldn’t; the Senate successfully avoided majority-party tyranny for two centuries before the true 60-vote Senate showed up recently.
What reluctant senators should do is not only sign up for reform but also threaten that they’ll vote for radical reform . . . unless Republicans agree to sit down and bargain out a more sensible set of reforms that would preserve the filibuster in many cases (but not all). I don’t think that’s impossible; faced with the threat of, for example, losing their ability to block liberal judges, a large number of Republicans may well be willing to vote for less dramatic, but still meaningful, changes. And after all, the reluctant Democrats could always back down from the bluff if it doesn’t seem to buy them anything.
The bottom line is that the current 60-vote Senate is simply not stable in the long run. Reform will come, eventually, one way or another. Those who are quite properly cautious about that reform should meet the challenge by finding a workable solution. Simply walking away from reform is only a recipe for more dramatic, and very likely poorly designed, reform once the frustration level boils over.
The better course for those who really do care about the Senate is to work for careful reform before that happens.