Before he leaves the Senate, Chris Dodd is waging a rearguard effort to try and prevent Democrats from changing the cloture vote threshold next year. Ryan Grim:
Chris Dodd gathered with the Democratic Senate freshman class on Tuesday night at a dinner organized by Mark Warner to persuade them to back off their push to change Senate rules when the chamber returns in January, the first opportunity there will be to do so.
Dodd, who is giving up his Connecticut Senate seat following a 36-year congressional career, argued that those who have yet to serve in the minority should be careful tampering with the rules.
First, if Dodd is making speeches in favor of keeping the cloture vote threshold at 60, that shows there is a lot of momentum for lowering the threshold. Second, his argument in favor of keeping the threshold at 60 is nonsensical:
"I made a case last night to about ten freshman senators, you know, you want to turn this into a unicameral body? What's the point of having a Senate? If the vote margins are the same as in the House, you might as well close the doors," Dodd told reporters in the Capitol.
Ridiculous. Just nonsense. You don't need different vote thresholds to have a bicameral system. Consider:
Frustrating as argument like Dodd's are, expect a lot more of it over the next five months. Also, expect more articles, such as the one in The Hill last week, where a few Democratic Senators express opposition to lowering the threshold, and thus effort is thus declared DOA.
- 36 states have bicameral legislatures where no filibuster is allowed. Would Senator Dodd claim those 36 states do not actually have a bicameral system?
- The 60-vote threshold is not in the Constitution. It just isn't. That was never a requirement for a bicameral legislature.
- If anything, the 60-vote threshold has created a unicameral system where the Senate has rendered the House irrelevant. Getting rid of the 60-vote threshold would give the two legislative bodies more equitable power.
We are going to have to work to change the narrative on this fight. If, for example, we could get four of five Democratic Senators to favor lowering the cloture threshold even if Republicans controlled the Senate and the White House, then perhaps the narrative would become about when the threshold would be lowered, and not if. Also, if we do a better job focusing on the wider range of proposed rule changes--such as making unanimous consent non-debatable, requiring the filibuster to be a real talkathon where Senators have to stay on the floor (as Senator Lautenberg has proposed), or switching the burden of the cloture threshold on the opposition (for example, 45 votes to continue a filibuster, rather than 60 to break it, as Senator Bennet has proposed)-then the interest and momentum for reform could increase as people debate a wider range of possible reforms.
Senate rules are not going to stay the same forever. The rules have changed in the past, and will change again in the future. The question is not if the rules will change, but rather when and how.