How Dems Could Finally Kill the Filibuster

Democrats frustrated with the filibuster--a major obstacle to health care reform and other legislation--want it abolished

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The single biggest hurdle to passing health care reform could be the filibuster, which requires the Senate to secure 60 out of 100 votes instead of the simple majority required in the House of Representatives. That requirement gives every senator huge sway and the power to single-handedly kill health care reform--or any legislation that splits along party lines. We've covered the case against filibusters and the liberal outcry against its abuse. Now two concrete proposals have been concocted to allow Democrats to abolish the filibuster. But will they work?

  • Idea: Postpone Ban Until 2017 The New Republic's Nicholas Stephanopoulos explains that Senate Democrats have been unable to kill the filibuster as 67 votes are required to amend Senate rules. He suggests that they propose a ban that would not go into effect until 2017, when President Obama will be out of office and every Senate seat will have gone up for re-election. "[M]ost importantly, there is no way to know which party would be in the majority and which would be in the minority. A debate now on whether to eliminate the filibuster in the future would transform senators' decision-making calculus. The key questions would no longer be whether they enjoy the personal clout conferred by the filibuster, or whether it advances or threatens their parties' agendas."
  • Idea: Time-Release Filibuster The Iowa Hawkeye cites Senator's Tom Harkin's idea. "To keep the spirit of slowing down legislation, though, Harkin's proposal back in 1995 would have kept the 60-vote rule for the first vote but lessening the number required in subsequent votes. He said for instance if 60 senators could not agree to end debate, it would carry on for another week or so and then the number of votes required to end debate would drop by three. Harkin said it would carry on this way until it reached a simple majority of 51 votes."
  • Wait For Public Support Statistician Nate Silver warns, "If you want to nuke the filibuster then the best way to do so is on an issue where the public actually has your backside -- which is not healthcare reform. It's hard to claim that the democratic system is broken when it's blocking a measure that the majority of the public opposes," he writes. "Financial regulation, however, might be a good candidate. The numbers are very strong there and it's one that Democrats, frankly, could stand to do a little bit of grandstanding on."
  • GOP Doesn't Want Majority John Cole suggests Republicans have a vested interest in being an non-constructive minority as long as the filibuster remains. "Unless the filibuster is modified, we are probably headed for 6+ years of a vocal Republican minority in the Senate bringing all federal business to a halt. I don't think it's unlikely that this becomes an entirely new model of action for conservatives--it goes hand-in-hand with the teabag movement. [...] their strategy is one that makes it easy to maintain a disciplined voting block (step out of line and the Fox goon squad comes after you), which is all you need to gum up the works in the age of the filibuster."
  • Dems Don't Really Want To Kill Filibuster Matthew Yglesias explains. "If we actually were in a situation where Democrats were clamoring for a restoration of majority rule and Republicans were blocking it, then I think a clever compromise would be just what the doctor ordered," he writes. "But even on this proponents of majority rule seem to be a minority of the Democratic caucus. Which is to say that the issue is less that Republicans are insisting on the filibuster in order to preserve their ability to block legislation than it is that Democrats are insisting on a supermajority rule in order to preserve each individual member's ability to make demands."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.