Blame the Senate, Not Obama, for the Energy Failure

On the New York Review of Books' blog, Michael Tomasky argues that a nonfunctional Senate killed comprehensive climate legislation and that filibuster reform is the only way to get laws of any kind moving again. Blame Obama for putting health care first or for fumbling climate: "Obama could never conjure up the language to sweep the right's disingenuous 'questions' about climate science to the side," Tomasky admits, "and he did not seize the post-BP moment as he might have. But the deeper explanation lies with the Senate":

The rules of that body, combined with the collapse, in our hyper-partisan age, of the practices that used to maintain Senate collegiality, have created a situation in which a supermajority of sixty votes is required to pass anything. This is the so-called "cloture" vote, which is not a vote on the merits of a piece of legislation per se, but a vote to end debate and bring a matter to the floor for a final vote. The cloture rule has existed since 1917, but it is only in the last thirty years, and most intensively in the last fifteen or so, that the cloture process has come to apply to virtually all matters. Since sixty votes are required to end debate, a minority of forty-one senators can block the will of fifty-nine; a minority, in other words, can function as an effective majority, threatening to filibuster any legislation it does not support.

The solution, according to Tomasky is not going to please either party:

Until this fever breaks (which could be four years or thirty-four, who knows), the passage of large-scale domestic legislation will be well-nigh impossible. And yes, reform of the filibuster rule would benefit the Republicans when they have power, but to many observers, and an increasing number of Democratic senators such as Iowa's Tom Harkin, New York's Charles Schumer, and New Mexico's Tom Udall, a Senate that passes liberal legislation at certain times and then conservative legislation at other times is better than a Senate that does nothing.

Read the full story at the New York Review of Books.

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Nicole Allan is a former senior editor at The Atlantic.

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