Set that Crown on the Ground

(Cross-posted)

At this point, as the filibuster appears set to kill or gut the public option and perhaps sink cap-and-trade altogether, it seems more productive to map out how exactly one would go about changing it than to simply complain. The obvious antecedent for such a change is the 1975 effort to reduce the cloture vote requirement from two-thirds to three-fifths of those present. Thankfully, I just stumbled upon this great TIME article from the period describing the legislative maneuvering involved. As far as I can tell, there are two main lessons here:

  • Have the vice president on your side. Nelson Rockefeller repeatedly ruled on procedural matters in ways that favored reformers. This is also a good reminder that the Senate parliamentarian has no real power; he is merely an advisor to the presiding officer, in most cases the vice president. The VP can choose to ignore his advice whenever so desired.
  • Do it at the beginning of a Congress. The potential to claim that the initial rule-setting vote threshold of 50 votes still stands is far greater than once rules have been adopted, when it changes to 67 votes. Of course, if Joe Biden wanted to, he could rule that you can change the filibuster rule by simple majority now, without any real statutory support. But he doesn’t seem to have the heart to do something that ballsy on behalf of all that is good and true in the world.

    In any case, read the whole thing. Basically, what this means is that if Joe Biden and 51 Democrats wanted to, we could end the filibuster today. Or reduce the cloture requirement to 55. What needs to happen is a coalition pushing for total abolition, which can then claim 55 as a reasonable compromise for which 51 votes can be mustered. If we can get some gang of maximalists-maybe including noted hold opponent Ron Wyden and Europhile Bernie Sanders, among others-to start making 55 seem like a sensible middle ground, then the last vote needed on health care could be someone like non-filibusterer Mark Pryor, not Olympia Snowe or Blanche Lincoln.

  • 2 thoughts on “Set that Crown on the Ground

    1. You are absolutely right: (1) the only reason Lieberman, Landrieu, Lincoln, Ben Nelson, etc., have the ability to screw up health care reform is the 60 votes needed for cloture; (2) the only reason 60 votes are required is that at least 51 senators support the rule saying 60 votes are required. So if health care fails because it doesn’t get 60 votes, or is watered down to the point of meaninglessness in pursuit of those 60 votes, this will be the fault of those Senate Democrats who refuse to change the rules on cloture, when they have the full right and power to do so. Every Senate Democrat who does not fight this unfair, undemocratic procedural roadblock will be just as responsible as any who vote against reform itself, because their actions will doom it as surely as voting against it.

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