Despite all the talk about Scott Brown bringing an end to the Democratic Senate supermajority, the truth is that Senate Democrats never had a filibuster-proof supermajority. They weren't even close.
A look at Senate voting habits shows that it takes only 54 Republican Senators to reach 60 votes for conservative legislation, while it takes 72 Democratic Senators to reach 60 votes for progressive legislation. While the last sentence sounds like snark, it isn't). Democratic Senators vote with Republicans significantly more often than Republican Senators vote with Democrats, making it much easier for Republicans to pass the kind of legislation they want.
According to Progressive Punch, looking only at "crucial votes," the average Democratic Senator has voted with the progressive position 82.4% of the time over the course of their entire career. By contrast, looking only at crucial votes, the average Republican Senator has voted with the progressive position 3.5% of the time throughout their entire career.
Voting habits like these mean that, in order to reach 60 progressive votes on crucial votes, Democrats actually need 72 Senators ((72 * 0.824) + (28 * 0.035) = 60.3 effective votes). By contrast, Republicans only need 54 Senators to break progressive filibusters of their agenda ((46 * 0.176) + (54 * 0.965) = 60.2 effective votes).
If there was no filibuster, and only 51 votes were required to pass legislation in the Senate, Democrats require 59 votes to hold the slimmest of majorities (50.1 effective votes), and even then they only hold the majority if a Democrat is Vice-President. So, even without the filibuster, passing progressive legislation such as card check, the public option, and cramdown would have been fraught with nailbiters in 2009-2010.
These numbers present an interesting series of choices for Democrats and progressives who want to get rid of the filibuster. Let's game it out:
The main choice is thus between:
- Under current rules, a progressive majority in the Senate is impossible. Democrats will never win 72 seats in any of our lifetimes. This means that, as long as the 60-vote filibuster is in place, there will never be a progressive majority in the Senate.
- Without the filibuster, non-Progressives will have a nearly permanent Senate majority. It only takes 42 Republican Senators to form an anti-progressive majority in the Senate even if the filibuster is destroyed. So, even if the filibuster is destroyed, the Senate will have a non-progressive majority roughly every 17 out of 20 years.
- With the filibuster, progressives can block legislation if there are 47 or more Democratic Senators. While the filibuster denies any hope of a progressive majority in the Senate, more often than not it allows progressives to block anti-progressive legislation as along as there are 47 or more Democratic Senators.
While #2 puts conservatives in unimpeded charge of the Senate more often than #1, it is still the better choice for progressives. This is because #2 at least offers a chance of passing progressive legislation, while #1 does not.
- Never having a progressive majority and usually being able to block anti-progressive legislation,
- Occasionally having a progressive majority and rarely being able to block anti-progressive legislation.
#1 blocks anti-progressive legislation more often than #2, but it still does not actually stop it. It is simply a slower erosion of progressive public policy, with no hope of reversal.
If you are a progressive, unless you got into politics just to slow down the corporate capture of the federal government, getting rid of the filibuster is a smart move. A progressive majority in the Senate simply impossible as long as it exists.