Liberals See Momentum for Filibuster Repeal

How it could happen and what it would mean

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In January, Democratic Senator Tom Udall proposed what he called "the Constitutional option" for repealing the filibuster. With Republicans opposing nearly everything, the threat of filibuster means that all Congressional action requires 60 Senate votes. This new math has severely restricted the ability of the federal government to accomplish even the most basic tasks. We've been through this debate a few times before, but some liberal pundits are reiterating their case for Democrats to end the filibuster, a crusade for which they perceive increased Senatorial support. Here's what they're saying.

  • The Constitutional Option  Udall's plan calls for Democrats, at the beginning of the next Congress in 2011, to cite Article I, Section 5 of the Constitution ("Each House may determine the Rules of its Proceedings...") and hold a vote to ban the filibuster. Udall says this would only require 51 votes in the Senate.
  • Dems Warming to Repeal?  The Huffington Post's Sam Stein and Ryan Grim report, "Momentum is building to reform Senate rules that allow silent filibusters and force a 60-vote requirement for virtually any action, interviews with Democratic candidates and sitting senators indicate. Democratic candidates said that they hear regularly from voters about abuse of the parliamentary tactic, which is likely to come up as the first vote new senators face in 2011."
  • The Precedent from 1960-62  Liberal blogger Jonathan Bernstein recounts the Kennedy years. "Most of the liberal agenda was stopped by rules that empowered conservatives in the House of Representatives. Yup, the House, not (primarily) the Senate. And so the first Congress with JFK in the White House was relatively unproductive, and Democrats didn't do especially well in the 1962 midterms. Meanwhile, liberals inside and outside of Congress applied major pressure for reform, and in fact during those years, liberals in the House enacted major reforms." The New Republic's Jonathan Chait adds, "repeating this scenario would require Democrats to hold the House in 2010 and then with the White House in 2012. That seems optimistic but not impossible."
  • 'Some Momentum Gathering'  Liberal blogger Matthew Yglesias, noting that "progressive activists are depressed," sees a ray of hope. "I do detect some momentum gathering behind Tom Udall’s constitutional option for curbing the filibuster in January of 2011, which if it happens would revive hope in the legislative arena."
  • How It Would Really Play Out  The Washington Post's Ezra Klein predicts "the real role that the constitutional option could play: If Democrats lay out a clear path to changing the rules through a majority vote, and if they show enough unity to convince Republicans that they'll really try it, you might see a hasty decision to reach some sort of bipartisan compromise on the rules. But if Democrats push this strategy only to find themselves unable to follow through on it, they may find that they've lost their ability to protest rules changes if Republicans decide to pursue the same strategy when they eventually retake the Senate."
  • Unlikely Because Dems Are Cowards  Salon's Alex Pareene calls repeal "technically possible" but "still not likely." Why? "Because Democrats are going to lose seats. And once that happens they will fold on every single progressive priority. Like, even harder than they do now. And the change requires a partisan showdown on the very first day of the new term, involving Joe Biden inserting himself into Senate business and maybe casting a tie-breaking vote. I mean, can you imagine the current crop of Senate Democrats doing this? Now imagine them trying it after losing a couple seats."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.