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The radicalism of majority rule


As a bit of an addendum to the post below, it's always worth noting that the radical vision of filibuster opponents is ... majority rule. The majority rule that Congress used until very recently, the majority rule that is explained to children when they learn about the American government, and the majority rule that we use to run, well, everything else. Scott Brown, for instance, got 51 percent of the votes in Massachusetts, not 60 percent. In fact, you never hear anyone say that we're a more polarized country now, so we should subject elections to a 60 percent requirement. Majority rule works just fine, thanks.

Meanwhile, in California, the legislature works off two-thirds rule, and the state is in an acute fiscal collapse. And it's not as if there are obvious examples of supermajority rule dramatically improving the condition of states or, to my knowledge, other countries. Nor do you hear people in Washington talking about how well it works now that everything requires 60 votes in the Senate. Everyone agrees Washington is broken. But people have a status quo bias, and so they think up ways to justify the current state of affairs, even as that state of affairs is a huge and radical break with our past.

By Ezra Klein  |  January 27, 2010; 5:00 PM ET
Categories:  Senate  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Party polarization is not the same as ideological polarization
Next: Reconciling with reconciliation


Ezra should rename his blog "Filibuster Bashing, and Lots of it".


Posted by: WEW72 | January 27, 2010 5:04 PM | Report abuse

Ezra's right, Jeeze. what's wrong with majority rule? Works that way everywhere else doesn't it?

Posted by: rjewett | January 27, 2010 5:29 PM | Report abuse

"The majority rule that Congress used until very recently,"

Interestingly, the topic arises periodically. See, for example, 55 Cong. Rec. 17 (1917), when a Senator attempted to make an argument against the filibuster. At the time in 1917, a 2/3 majority was required to invoke cloture.

Posted by: rmgregory | January 27, 2010 5:50 PM | Report abuse

Well, I reside in California and I am quite proud of our state legislature. Of course, I'm joking. Except for something like constitutional amendments, majority rule makes perfect sense and is very well advocated by Mr. Klein. Pretty much every year our legislature deadlocks trying to pass a budget, then various activities of government, like state parks, start shutting down, eventually rivers begin to run backwards and dogs and cats start sleeping together. Seriously, it has become an absurd system. Bravo to Ezra Klein!
- - - - -
Border Enforcement + Immigration Moratorium = Job, Crime and Eco Sanity.

Posted by: tma_sierrahills | January 27, 2010 6:06 PM | Report abuse

There is a value in the Senate being the saucer in which the tea cools. But the extent to which cloture/filibuster has shifted since abuot 1999 indicates a real problem in actually having government execute plans and achieve results.

Lots of people like to natter about starving the beast or whatever. Till their bridges collapse, a hurricane demolishes their town, unemployment surges and they need help bridging the gap, or till their dad (or they) get old and can't get company-sponsored health care anymore.

We've been sold this meta-narrative that government is the other, the thing to be resisted. It exists to serve us.

We could go back to having off-duty hearses providing ambulance service, but most people would agree that gov't does a better job than private industry did. Flippant example, maybe, but how do people think these things get done?

People elected have the power to make decisions. Too much weight on blocking decisions causes our idiotic current Congress.

Posted by: RalfW | January 27, 2010 6:37 PM | Report abuse

I've tried to follow these fillibuster arguments but I just don't understand: why don't the Republicans have to stand there droning on and on with the whole nation watching on C-Span? Why is just threatening a fillibuster enough to kill something?

Posted by: Athena_news | January 27, 2010 6:44 PM | Report abuse

Athena_news: because technically the GOPer doesn't have to talk, they can just stand there and make points of order here and there to extend debate. That means that there's no "waiting them out" because they can rotate in and out as much as they'd like.

Mostly though, it's because Harry Reid thinks that if that confrontation happens, it'll look worse for the D's than it does for the R's.

Posted by: etdean1 | January 27, 2010 7:50 PM | Report abuse

If we're gonna have a filibuster, they should have to do it like Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

Otherwise, they just aren't serious, and the filibuster should go.

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | January 27, 2010 8:01 PM | Report abuse

If the constitution didn't intend for the senate to have a simple majority rule in most matters, except for what, treaties and constitutional amendments?, then why did it set up the vice-president as the voter who breaks a tie, hmmmm?

Posted by: rjewett | January 28, 2010 9:24 AM | Report abuse

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