Et Tu, NYT Editorial Page Writer?

From today's (otherwise excellent) NYT editorial on the Senate's recent 51-47 "defeat" of an Obama proposal to cut oil subsidies:

Despite pleading by Mr. Obama, the Senate on Thursday could not produce the 60 votes necessary to pass a bill eliminating $2.5 billion a year of these subsidies.

(In case you've missed the previous ten million items on this topic: 60 votes is necessary to "break a filibuster," not to "pass a bill." The more often the press -- and this is the NYT editorial page! -- elides the difference between the two, the more firmly it ratifies the 28th Amendment to the Constitution. This is the McConnell Amendment: that the Senate shall be converted into a minority-veto body, through routine filibuster of all measures.)

Is there any other way to report this news? Yes indeed! Here are Glen Johnson and Bobby Caina Calvan of the Boston Globe, on the same story, featuring the role of Massachusetts senator Scott Brown:

The 51-47 vote was mostly along party lines.

A majority of Democrats, including Brown's senior colleague Senator John F. Kerry, voted in favor of eliminating the subsidies, but they fell far short of the 60 votes needed to withstand a filibuster. Only two Republicans, Senators Olympia J. Snowe and Susan M. Collins of Maine, joined the Democrats. Four Democrats voted against repealing the subsidies.

And from the Associated Press, as carried in Newsday:

Senate keeps oil tax subsidies flowing
WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama's plea to Congress to end $4 billion in tax subsidies to oil companies was rebuffed yesterday as the Senate turned back a Democratic bill to repeal the tax breaks.
Moments after Obama made his election-year appeal in the White House Rose Garden, the Senate failed to get the necessary two-thirds vote to proceed [JF note: actually, three fifths, not two thirds: still, heart is in the right place] to a measure that would have ended the subsidies....
The Senate vote was 51-47, short of the 60 votes necessary.

As mentioned recently, these updates are offered as a real-time chronicle of a "change in norms" becoming a "change in rules," right before our eyes. Sooner or later people will assume that of course 60 votes is "necessary to pass a bill." Look, it says so right there, in the newspaper of record!

Bonus civics point: when the Democrats are back in the minority in the Senate, either they will:
  - continue this filibuster-everything strategy, which will be bad for the country; or
  - not continue it, which will be bad for them.

Either way, the McConnell Era will have made its damaging mark. We might as well note that it's happening.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.


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