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Evan Bayh comes out against the filibuster

It took him a day or two, but Evan Bayh has finally begun saying why Washington doesn't work, rather than just complaining that it doesn't. Here he is saying that the filibuster should be 55 votes rather than 60, and fewer nominees should require Senate confirmation.

"The minority has rights, that's important, but the public has a right to see its business done, and not routinely allow a small minority to keep us from addressing the great issues that face this country," Bayh says. "I think the filibuster absolutely needs to be changed."

It's enough to make you wish the guy was sticking around to fight for his ideas.

By Ezra Klein  |  February 17, 2010; 6:10 PM ET
Categories:  Senate  
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No. It's not. Because if cloture were changed to be 55 votes, Bayh would still be one of the Democrats threatening to vote against cloture on major progressive legislation unless it were made crappier thereby largely defeating the value of the rule change.

Posted by: redwards95 | February 17, 2010 6:18 PM | Report abuse

not only that but he was just on Wolf Blitzer's CNN program stating that he's going to give his $13 million to the Indiana Democratic Party as well as to those DEMOCRATIC legislators that support the idea of filibuster reform. So those of you on the left who thought this was some conspiracy theory can check that off your list and go onto the next conspiracy.

Posted by: visionbrkr | February 17, 2010 6:27 PM | Report abuse

Just another politician suddenly having all these great ideas as soon as they are in a position to do nothing about them. Funny how they can never find the courage to talk about this stuff when they are in a position to do anything about it!

Posted by: cminmd1 | February 17, 2010 6:45 PM | Report abuse

It would have been great if Bayh had come out for majority rule at the beginning of the HCR debate instead of threatening to filibuster his own leadership if the bill wasn't to his liking.

Posted by: srw3 | February 17, 2010 6:59 PM | Report abuse

What srw3 said; this is the same Senator who delcared that it would be wrong to pass a health care fix through reconciliation, right?

Posted by: dcamsam | February 17, 2010 7:05 PM | Report abuse

Sorry, forty-one percent is not a "small minority". Nor are the Democrats' HCR bills "modest", as Ezra has repeatedly claimed.

Posted by: tbass1 | February 17, 2010 7:11 PM | Report abuse

During the health care debate, Bayh said that 60 vote procedural votes like to break a filibuster were the same as the final 50 vote majority vote.

Posted by: flounder2 | February 17, 2010 7:14 PM | Report abuse

dcamsam: "...this is the same Senator who delcared that it would be wrong to pass a health care fix through reconciliation, right?"

Support for the principle of majority rule and opposition to the use of the reconciliation process to pass HCR is not logically inconsistant. One need only have a respect for laws/rules. Bayh may reasonably be of the opinion that, absent changes to law or Senate rules, what is desirable and what is possible are two different things.

Posted by: tbass1 | February 17, 2010 7:48 PM | Report abuse

"It's enough to make you wish the guy was sticking around to fight for his ideas."
Not all of his ideas are as good as that one.

Posted by: CalD | February 17, 2010 7:54 PM | Report abuse

Bayh said: "The minority needs to have a right. I think that's important." Why?

The concept of minority rights is not reconcilable with majority rule if a non-majority can effectively bar majority rule. That's why cloture/filibuster is historically grounded in debate time BEFORE a vote and was never intended be a requirement for a super-majority ON the vote.

Recall that President Clinton's budget reconciliation that led to our first balanced budget in decades passed by 1 vote in the House and 1 vote in the Senate. Democrats have a substantially larger majority in the Senate today and would not be able to get the same outcome because the Republicans have -- and to their credit, have very effectively -- morphed cloture into a super-majority requirement.

Bayh advocates reducing the filibuster from 60 to 55. That would be an improvement insofar as it would be more majoritarian, but Bayh is comparing a requirement of 67 to end debate (during a time when many of the actual bills passed with fewer than 60 votes) to a de facto super-majority requirement for 60 votes to do anything.

If the Senate reduced the filibuster from 60 to 55 and the Democrats lost 5 seats before the next Congress (which could happen), the Democrats would be in the exact same position they are in now -- majority control of an institution that requires a slightly larger super-majority to actually perform its function, which is to pass laws.

On the other point, Bayh is correct that too many lower-level administration officials require confirmation, but confirming even lower-level officials would far less of a problem in a system where: (1) a single Senator can't use the filibuster rules to put a hold on a single nomination (to trade it for something he wants that may not even be related to the nomination), and (2) every nominee gets a simple-majority vote.

Posted by: MisterSavannah | February 17, 2010 8:00 PM | Report abuse

He is going to run for President. He is distancing himself from Congress now so he won't be 'an insider'.

Posted by: PatrickKay | February 17, 2010 8:37 PM | Report abuse

It seems clear as wiser heads have had a chance to sift through the Bayh retirement that it actually works to the benefit of the democrats in every possible way. The timing is such that they avoid a primary fight and eliminate flake candidates. He, like Dodd, was thought to be poison in his home state, Dodd because of probable massive corruption and Bayh because he voted down the line for jobs killing legislation. This way the democrats can field a candidate who is not tainted by cooperation with the administration, and will run as a blue dog (though vote the party line no doubt.)

Posted by: truck1 | February 17, 2010 9:16 PM | Report abuse

You hear a lot about how we need supermajorities to defend minority rights.

But there is a much better way to protect minority rights than making the country advance far slower, be far more inefficient, and fall behind other countries via supermajority requirements, and that's with constitutional rights, like the Bill of Rights in the Constitution, and future amendments if necessary.

No matter what super majority requirement you have, you can still say the majority is taking advantage of the minority. If it's an 80% requirement, you can still say the 80% used their votes to take advantage of the 20%. If it's a 99% requirement, you can still say the 99% used their votes to take advantage of the 1%. The only way you can't still say this is if you require all 100 million voters to unanimously approve of anything government does, and that means we never do anything and decay into chaos.

Better to protect minorities through constitutional rights than supermajority requirements.

Posted by: RichardHSerlin | February 17, 2010 11:00 PM | Report abuse

I think a vote on a complete filibuster repeal would make for a nice game of chicken. Republicans seem so sure they're going to be in the majority after November; let's see them put their cards on the table. They've already proven that they have zero interest in actual governance, so there's no substantive principle for them to stand on regarding the filibuster. If they think it will give them power (which is apparently the only thing they care about), then for a complete filibuster repeal. None of this 55-vote reduction nonsense. It's all or nothing. Lay 'em down.

Posted by: slag | February 18, 2010 12:09 AM | Report abuse

" for a complete filibuster repeal. None of this 55-vote reduction nonsense. It's all or nothing. Lay 'em down."


Consider me all in. Majority rule in the Senate, winner takes all.

Posted by: Patrick_M | February 18, 2010 5:13 AM | Report abuse

The filibuster could be fixed simply by changing it to 2/3 of those present instead of 2/3 of all Senators. That would place the burden on a minority wanting to block a bill to show up with not just part, but effectively all, of its caucus (instead of on the majority, where the burden ironically lies under the current rule).

Posted by: TCDrusus | February 18, 2010 8:11 AM | Report abuse

""You hear a lot about how we need supermajorities to defend minority rights.""

The _structure of the senate_ defends minority rights. What people are willfully and conveniently "forgetting" is that the structure of equal representation of states it _itself_ how the senate was designed to protect minority rights. If the party that can send two senators to Wyoming by getting a few hundred thousand votes can't assemble a majority coalition in the senate even when on equal standing with California, which needs millions of votes to send its senators to Washington, then maybe you should accept that you lost and instead negotiate with the majority for the best deal you can come up with instead of holding them hostage.

Posted by: tyromania | February 18, 2010 8:49 AM | Report abuse

Tell me, Ezra, how much is the White House paying you to write this column? Yesterday was the wonders of the stimulus and how incredibly successful it has been (LOL) and now this. We need to keep the filibuster as it is, Ezra, to prevent MOB rule by the majority. This is what our founders intended and woe to the party that messes with this so they can enact their agenda.

Posted by: lisaaitken | February 18, 2010 9:14 AM | Report abuse

" We need to keep the filibuster as it is, Ezra, to prevent MOB rule by the majority."


Read tyronmania's post only inches from yours, think about it, internalize it...then come back and make an argument.

Posted by: antontuffnell | February 18, 2010 10:30 AM | Report abuse

I dont remember reading about the filibuster in the Federalist Papers, but admittedly it has been a long time.

Here's my prediction - people will hit the magic tipping point on the filibuster right when the Rs get 51 senate seats, and everyone will demand the Dems renounce the filibuster for all time, which they will because they cave. This will continue for a number of years until the Dems win 51 seats, at which time the filibuster will once again become the most holy sacrament handed down to us by the founding fathers and the only thing that differentiates us from a Stalinist dictatorship.

Posted by: luko | February 18, 2010 10:33 AM | Report abuse

@Truck1 - what on earth are you talking about? Bayh was viewed as a strong favorite for re-election. Certainly his chances were better than Ellsworth or Hill or whoever's.

Posted by: jlk7e | February 18, 2010 11:26 AM | Report abuse

No, his chances are worse than theirs for this reason. If he stays on, he MUST sign on to the healthcare scheme, and even cap and "trade" (TM: Al Gore). That will bring down a lot of wrath on him. As long as democratic candidates keep their hands clean of these things, they will beat republicans. The democratic retirements are something the administration secretly welcomes -- these battle scarred and damaged troops will be replaced by fresh blood. You can't think the administration didn't want the retirement of Dodd? And even Dorgan. Most of these "retirements" (forced plank walkings) will come from more conservative leaning democratic states. Dodd was an exception because of financial corruption.

Posted by: truck1 | February 18, 2010 11:56 AM | Report abuse

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