The limits of filibuster reform
By Dylan Matthews
Obama has expressed his frustration with the filibuster before, but he seems to amping up his criticism. He brought it up twice yesterday, first at a meeting with liberal bloggers ("the damage that the filibuster I think has done to the workings of our democracy are at this point pretty profound") and then on "The Daily Show" (skip to 6:30):
|The Daily Show With Jon Stewart||Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c|
|Barack Obama Pt. 3|
This is all to the good, and I hope some progress gets made at the beginning of the next Congress. Regardless of which party holds a majority, it'll be a very slim one, and so I'd imagine Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would be as enthusiastic about chipping away at cloture requirements as Majority Leader Harry Reid or Chuck Schumer.
That being said, while filibuster reform will probably reduce gridlock, there's no way it will leave a party with a real majority. Tom Udall is the only senator who appears open to eliminating the cloture requirement altogether, and even he's not explicit about that. Michael Bennet's proposal only reduces the requirement to 55, and then only in certain circumstances. Tom Harkin's plan has a gradually reduced cloture requirement, which could clog up Congress even more by forcing the majority to wait weeks until the requirement is low enough. And some proposals, like Frank Lautenberg's, don't even change the cloture requirement at all.
Given inevitable opposition from Senate traditionalists in either party, the best reform I can see realistically passing is something like Bennet's. Looking at Nate Silver's latest probability chart (look under "Probable Senate Outcomes"), there seems to be about a 15-16 percent chance of a Democratic majority of 55 or greater, and no chance of a Republican majority of that size. So even in the best-case scenario, we could see Democrats go from scrounging together a couple of Republican votes to get to 60 to scrounging those votes together to get to 55. It's progress, but it won't make the next Congress a whole lot more productive.
Dylan Matthews is a student at Harvard and a researcher at The Washington Post.
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