After eight years of Bush, and fourteen years of either Bush or a Republican Congress, the current legislative fights over health care, climate change, and stimulus spending are a breath of fresh air. Even if the type of legislation we are achieving is inadequate to solve the scope of the problems we face in those three areas, at least progressives actually have a role in crafting legislative policy now. That is something we haven't been able to really say since 1994.
It also won't be something that we can say after 2010, if 51 Senate Democrats don't join together to abolish the filibuster at some point between now and January, 2011. If Republicans make a net gain of three Senate seats or more in the 2010 elections (which is pretty likely according to current polling), Democrats will simply not be able to achieve cloture on any major legislation put before the Senate.
The watered down stimulus package passed the Senate with only 61 votes. The watered down health care and climate change bills will pass the Senate with somewhere between 60 and 62 votes. This is a pattern we will continue to see on every major piece of legislation before the Senate, since only Maine Republicans Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins are willing to compromise with Democrats at all. It also means that there is no hope of compromise with Republicans if they net only 3 seats in the 2010 elections.
It is possible that Mike Castle and / or Rob Simmons might be among the new Republican Senators, and that they might be willing to compromise with Democrats on major legislation. Even so, a net loss of only three Democratic Senate seats will give Mike Castle and / or Rob Simmons effective veto power over the entire Democratic legislative agenda, much in the way that Ben Nelson, Joe Lieberman, Mary Landrieu and Olympia Snowe wield that veto power right now.
If Democrats wish to continue to govern after 2010, the only sure-fire path is for 51 Democrats to use the nuclear option to end the 60-vote culture of the Senate.
If only 51 votes are needed to pass legislation through the Senate, it would effectively be the same thing as Democrats gaining 10 seats in the Senate. No matter what political price Senate Democrats may face for the apparent hypocrisy or partisanship of destroying the filibuster, it can simply never equal to a net Senate gain of ten seats. We are just not going to lose ten Senate seats because we destroyed the filibuster.
Further, given the crises we face both as a country and as a species, allowing an even more conservative Republican Party to regain a veto over American policy is far, far worse than any esoteric argument about the "deliberative" tradition of the Senate. Further, after the way Republicans have acted in 2009, if anyone still thinks that meaningful bipartisanship can be achieved on major legislation, they are living in a fantasy world.
Engaging the fight over health care, climate change, stimulus spending, and other major legislative priorities is good. However, it is likely that this will all come to an end in only thirteen months if the 60-vote culture of the Senate remains in place. Getting rid of the filibuster--which can be done with only 51 votes--is necessary to ensuring continued Democratic governance beyond 2010.
How it works in the extended entry
|How it works: For those who don't know, here is how it works:
The nuclear option is used in response to a filibuster or other dilatory tactic. A senator makes a point of order calling for an immediate vote on the measure before the body, outlining what circumstances allow for this. The presiding officer of the Senate, usually the vice president of the United States or the president pro tempore, makes a parliamentary ruling upholding the senator's point of order. The Constitution is cited at this point, since otherwise the presiding officer is bound by precedent. A supporter of the filibuster may challenge the ruling by asking, "Is the decision of the Chair to stand as the judgment of the Senate?" This is referred to as "appealing from the Chair." An opponent of the filibuster will then move to table the appeal. As tabling is non-debatable, a vote is held immediately. A simple majority decides the issue. If the appeal is successfully tabled, then the presiding officer's ruling that the filibuster is unconstitutional is thereby upheld. Thus a simple majority is able to cut off debate, and the Senate moves to a vote on the substantive issue under consideration. The effect of the nuclear option is not limited to the single question under consideration, as it would be in a cloture vote. Rather, the nuclear option effects a change in the operational rules of the Senate, so that the filibuster or dilatory tactic would thereafter be barred by the new precedent.
Any filibuster can be defeated with only 51 votes using this Senate procedure. Anyone who remembers the 2005 fight over the nuclear option knows this.
A plan to destroy the filibuster: For those who think this campaign cannot be won, I have written up what I believe to be a plausible plan to get 51 Senators to invoke the nuclear option, and destroy the filibuster.