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Nicholas Stephanopoulos on the Filibuster

Democrats could end it, but only if they really mean it

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Partisan politics tends to bring out out the bile, and few subjects have a more emetic effect than the filibuster. The procedural move, never or rarely used until recent years, now dominates Congress because it forces the Senate to secure a super-majority of 60 votes to pass anything. That puts every piece of major legislation--particularly health care reform--under a heavy and sometimes insurmountable burden. It also means that a single Senator -- say, Joe Lieberman -- can hold the entire Congress hostage. But overturning the filibuster requires 67 votes, a supermajority that would require members of the minority to vote against the procedural move that so strengthens them. Nevertheless, the New Republic's Nicholas Stephanopoulos has an idea for how Democrats could do it:

There is no way Republican senators would agree to the immediate abolition of the filibuster. But what if the proposal on the table was to get rid of the filibuster in 2017? By then, even a potential second Obama term would have ended. Every sitting senator would have faced re-election at least once. And, most 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.

While many liberal blogs complain about how terrible the filibuster is, it's rare to see a serious effort at overturning it, especially in a way that could harm Democrats in the short run. As Stephanopoulos notes, it's entirely possible that the filibuster ban would go into effect under a Republican-majority Congress. Everyone claims to hate the filibuster, but whether Stephanopoulos's idea is embraced by liberals in the blogosphere and Democrats in Congress will demonstrate just how true that is.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.