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Evan Bayh: No difference between voting for a filibuster and voting against a bill

M2X00014_9.JPG“For the final vote," says Evan Bayh, "I see no distinction between substance and procedure.” That is to say, if he decides to vote against the bill, he'll also vote against breaking a filibuster.

On some level, that makes sense. If you don't think a bill should become law, then it is arguably your responsibility to do everything in your power to keep it from becoming law. But if that's how the Senate is going to work from here on out, we should actually change the Senate rules to require 60 votes for the passage of any bill.

Let's end the confusion of the filibuster and the attempts to use budget reconciliation and the illegitimacy of procedural holds and the primacy of cloture votes and all the rest of it. If the Senate is to be a 60-vote body, let's have that debate, spin out the implications, and decide to change the rules of the place to make it a 60-vote body. As it stands, the United States Senate is functioning off the implications of a procedural loophole rather than the majority vote that its designers intended. If the current occupants believe another approach wise, they should make that argument on the merits rather than perverting the intent of the rules.

Photo credit: By Joe Raymond/Associated Press

By Ezra Klein  |  November 17, 2009; 11:30 AM ET
Categories:  Senate  
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Comments

If you want to get back to what the designers intended you'd have to change a whole lot more than just the filibuster rule.

Posted by: spotatl | November 17, 2009 11:35 AM | Report abuse

Govern the Senate with majority rule like the Constitution intended? Sounds like Socialism. I don't want to live in a fascist country where parties that win elections can do things like pass legislation and appoint officials. Gridlock only ensures that important things, like bailouts and raising Congressional pay, make it through.

Posted by: etdean1 | November 17, 2009 11:40 AM | Report abuse

I wonder if Bayh still plans on running for president.

Posted by: eleander | November 17, 2009 11:42 AM | Report abuse

And to think this man made it onto Obama's short list for VP . . .

Posted by: scarlota | November 17, 2009 11:49 AM | Report abuse

I'm not sure that anything needs to change beyond the majority's timidity in standing up to filibuster threats. I think Democrats ought to go ahead and force the Republicans to demonstrate just how determined they are to stand in the way of the majority.

People really do want to see some change in the way Congress does business.

Posted by: Athena_news | November 17, 2009 11:50 AM | Report abuse

Even if intended in jest, requiring 60 votes for passage of Senate legislation might not be such a bad idea: a supermajority says something that a simple majority does not. California offers many examples of the failure of simple majority votes.

Gridlock is usually not negative; further, as (or if) the two-party system morphs into even more of a multi-party system, an explicit sixty vote requirement might actually move things along a bit better.

Posted by: rmgregory | November 17, 2009 11:53 AM | Report abuse

rmgregory, I think the analogy to California swings the other way. The supermajority requirement has prevented the state from addressing pressing fiscal matters and the result is an enormous financial crisis. Ezra's posted about once a week about the danger posed by gridlock when the nation is going to have to face up to some hard fiscal choices over the next 20 years.

athena_news, remember that Harkin is planning on forcing a filibuster, but on a legislative level it's almost impossible to break short of the 60 votes for cloture, and it's much much more painful for the majority. The only possible gain is for PR.

Posted by: etdean1 | November 17, 2009 11:59 AM | Report abuse

I started calling my Senators to ask how they felt about changing the rules to be more majoritarian, and learned 2 things:

1) Email to the national office via their online forms is recommended approach.

2) Phrasing the question is not so easy and probably matters. Here’s what I came up with:

“Currently most major legislation requires the support of 60 senators. Does the Senator support changing Senate rules to allow a simple majority of Senators to better implement their agenda?”

Suggestions for improving this language would be awesome. Also, how about surfing to your Senators’ sites at (lastname).senate.gov and putting the question to them?

Posted by: SamPenrose | November 17, 2009 12:14 PM | Report abuse

Any dem that votes against cloture loses all committee assignments and chairmanships, period. Procedural votes against the party that gives you your positions of power must not be tolerated. If we can't enforce some loyalty on procedural votes, the democratic caucus will become meaningless. Senators are free to vote against their leadership on substantive issues, like HCR but not on procedural matters if they want to stay in good standing in their caucus. Let Bayh go to the repiglicans and see how they enforce party loyalty.

Posted by: srw3 | November 17, 2009 12:23 PM | Report abuse

Goes double for holy joe. He doesn't deserve any committee chairmanships for campaigning against democrats during the election (not just Obama, he also campaigned for repiglican senators and helped them raise money). If he votes against the party he caucuses with, cut him loose. Let's see how comfortable holy joe is in the global warming denying, anti-choice, know nothing modern repiglican party.

Posted by: srw3 | November 17, 2009 12:26 PM | Report abuse

i love the liberal argument about losing committee assignments. Those committee assignments won't mean much when their conservative states vote them out of office. So Democratic Senator in a conservative leaning state do you want to lose committee power now and stay in office for a short-time or do you want to keep your committee assignments and lose the votes necessary to keep you in office in 2010.

Posted by: visionbrkr | November 17, 2009 12:27 PM | Report abuse

Didn't Senator Wellpoint walk back this statement after Rachel Maddow and Glenn Greenwald walked through his and Mrs. Wellpoint's direct financial interests in Big Health? As in the less than 24 hours later?

John

Posted by: toshiaki | November 17, 2009 12:32 PM | Report abuse

I wish Ezra calling the bluff of these Senators here would change the things. But these Senators drink some different water when it comes to governance with 'just mandate'.

It is not in that institution's DNA to have things done in transparent and legitimate ways.

Any sane Senator would be shameful to use these procedural things while executing people's mandates. They are all ego maniacs preferring to see end or withering away of this Republic and irrelevance of Congress in solving people's true problems.

If for President to come forward and call this bluff; that will ruffle the feathers and things might move. Or even House to come forward and pound on Senate devastatingly to force change here. These Senators are too thick skinned to consider any valid criticism from Media.

But in any case, it is right for Ezra and Media to keep on chipping at the malfunction of Senate.

Remember, we are to blame to allow this horrendous institution. If we want the change, we must sponsor the candidates who will change Senate rather than supporting these 'mother f*****s' as always.

Posted by: umesh409 | November 17, 2009 12:39 PM | Report abuse

visionbrkr, it would be better for holy joe and Bayh and any other conservadems to leave the caucus and join the repiglicans than to have them sabotage the Democratic caucus with impunity. Besides, when they vote with the dems, the bills could be advertised as bipartisan.

"Those committee assignments won't mean much when their conservative states vote them out of office."--What is your point here? Why should dems give power to those who won't support their leadership on PROCEDURAL votes?

"So Democratic Senator in a conservative leaning state do you want to lose committee power now and stay in office for a short-time or do you want to keep your committee assignments and lose the votes necessary to keep you in office in 2010."
Again, what is the point of this question? They can keep their committee assignments by voting with the people that gave them their assignments on PROCEDURAL matters, or they can join the other side and get whatever the repiglicans decide they deserve. There is no middle ground on this. Voting with the caucus on PROCEDURAL matters is a prerequisite for getting the perks of being in the majority.

Conservadems get to keep their vaulted conservative bonafides by voting against the SUBSTANTIVE legislation if they want to. This is considerable largess by the Dems. The repiglicans do not suffer this kind of ideological diversity as shown in their party of NO voting record.

Posted by: srw3 | November 17, 2009 12:42 PM | Report abuse

srw3,

the problem is that conservadems (i expect) feels the legislation goes too far in some areas and not far enough in others (cost control). They're about to get destroyed in their home districts over the Washington spending while unemployment is over 10% and under-employment is above 17%.

I'd expect they want to expand coverage, but in a fiscally responsible way and not much in these reforms is fiscally responsible.

Posted by: visionbrkr | November 17, 2009 1:26 PM | Report abuse

visionbrkr, the problem with this logic is that the conservadems fought against cost control measures in the Senate. Where were their proposals for reforming medicare payment rates? crickets... Where were their proposals for curbing insurance premium caps? crickets... In short, they were against the legislation as written without proposing anything that would make the bill more palatable. That means they are just against the bill for other reasons. And that doesn't justify voting against their leadership on the procedural matters in any case. If they don't like the majority's position, they are welcome to join the minority, but they can't simultaneously get the perks of being in the majority while voting against the majority on procedural votes.

Posted by: srw3 | November 17, 2009 1:46 PM | Report abuse

Ezra, did you feel differently about the filibuster when the power was reversed and we were trying to use it to prevent moralist judges from being appointed? I did...

What a sixty vote senate could allow to emerge is a real third party- socially liberal and fiscally conservative. One that stays out of your bedroom and your wallet.

Posted by: staticvars | November 17, 2009 1:51 PM | Report abuse

srw3,

I agree. they should have stood up for cost control measures but didn't. That's why politicans CAN'T do this work. The only way they could is if there were term limits and they weren't worried about getting re-elected for another 50 years. They either need to enact a commission to handle this or have term limits. There are pluses and minuses to doing either but either way I don't think conservadems are right for doing what they're doing but they're getting the correct end result. The bill likely may not pass because its crap. They should re-do it when they have the stones to stand up to all the special interests (Insurers, doctors, hospitals, Pharma etc). They should only be beholden to the American people but they aren't. You all joke around here about Sen. Bayh (Wellpoint) but how about Senator Menendez in my state (PHARMA)er uh (NJ). Off on a tangent here but how many democrats voted for extending biologics because they have manufacturers in their home states? How about Kerry and Bingham who helped kill (Along with Baucus) Wyden-Bennett ammendment in the SFC?

What a sixty vote senate could allow to emerge is a real third party- socially liberal and fiscally conservative. One that stays out of your bedroom and your wallet.

Posted by: staticvars | November 17, 2009 1:51 PM | Report abuse


Please show me where these candidates are because they SHOULD be the party everyone can rally around.

Posted by: visionbrkr | November 17, 2009 2:11 PM | Report abuse

staticvars If you really agreed with me, then agree with me that those who oppose their leadership on PROCEDURAL votes should be stripped of their committee assignments. The crappy parts of the bill are there because of conservadem pressure to put them in. To cave to them and then have them vote against the leadership on PROCEDURAL votes and keep their perks shows the dem leadership as patsies that can be ignored.

Posted by: srw3 | November 17, 2009 3:10 PM | Report abuse

One thing that would change if you went to a straight 60-vote rule in the Senate is you'd lose the marvelously time-wasting cloture process. Cloture, for a majority with an ambitious agenda, is a double killer: the swift death of the 60-vote threshold coupled with the slow, agonizing poison of the mandatory pre- and post-cloture waiting periods. All told, you may have to spend more than 72 hours twiddling your thumbs just to vote on an otherwise pointless procedural motion. In congressional terms, that's pretty much a full week right there, and there are only 52 of those to get your work done each year.

Switch it to a 60-vote up-or-down rule and you would presumably lose that cloture process with all its built-in delay. From the standpoint of obstructionist senators -- and they're ALL obstructionists at one point or another -- that's too precious a weapon to give up.

Posted by: scarpy | November 17, 2009 3:50 PM | Report abuse

God bless Evan Bayh. I assume his background is pretty clean, because Rahm Emanuel probably has the FBI files wrongfully taken in the Clinton administration. He's going to have to stand up to all kinds of threats and pressure. Will he have the fortitude for it? Stay tuned.

Posted by: truck1 | November 17, 2009 8:33 PM | Report abuse

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