Would Democrats Vote Down Filibuster Repeal?

A handful might sink it

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Liberal pundits enticed by the prospect of Congressional Democrats using the "Constitutional option" to repeal the filibuster in 2011 may have had their hopes dashed by a handful of Senate Democrats who say they would not support the move. The filibuster, used by Senate Republicans under Obama with historic frequency to handicap the government's ability to act, could be potentially repealed with the support of 51 Senators at the start of the next Congress in 2011. However, there may not be 51 yes votes, as a number of Democrats have voiced opposition. Here's what people are saying.

  • Dems Lack Necessary Votes  The Hill Alexander Bolton reports, "Senate Democrats do not have the votes to lower the 60-vote threshold to cut off filibusters. The lack of support among a handful of Senate Democratic incumbents is a major blow to the effort to change the upper chamber’s rules. ... Five Senate Democrats have said they will not support a lowering of the 60-vote bar necessary to pass legislation. Another four lawmakers say they are wary about such a change and would be hesitant." Bolton cites Max Baucus, Ben Nelson, Dianne Feinstein, Daniel Akaka, Russ Feingold, Ben Nelson, Mark Pryor, Mary Landrieu, and Jay Rockefeller.
  • Maybe Democrats Like the Filibuster?  The National Review's Daniel Foster concludes, "Surprise: Democrats Like the Filibuster Too. ... The Senate might be, at the moment, a liberal institution. But institutions are by their nature conservative." Libertarian blogger Doug Mataconis says the opposing Democrats are right. "The filibuster as it exists has been in place for decades and has served very well it’s primary function of ensuring that the minority has the voice it was intended to, and to ensure that the Senate serves it’s intended function of putting a brake on the populism of the House of Representatives."
  • Conservative Democrats Empowered by Filibuster  Those very same conservative Democrats who benefit from the filibuster are the ones opposing its repeal. The New Republic's Jonathan Cohn explains, "When it takes 60 senators to pass all legislation, the Democratic leadership has to rely on these people not only for their votes but also for their cache among Republicans. ... Of course, the filibuster empowers individual Democrats at the expense of the party as a whole."
  • Right Choice for Dems Facing Minority Future  The Atlantic's Megan McArdle approves. "At this point, Democrats would be crazy to do this.  They'd get a few months before they lose so many seats in the house that--even if they don't lose entirely--they won't have enough votes to do much. And in exchange, they risk empowering a Republican Senate majority--if not in 2010 (which I think is very unlikely) then in 2012."
  • Every Democrat Should Make This Top Priority  Liberal blogger Matthew Yglesias explains why filibuster comes first. "Several of these people say they support action to curb climate change. That can’t happen without filibuster reform. Several say they support comprehensive immigration reform. That can’t happen without filibuster reform. Several say they support a public option. That can’t happen without filibuster reform. Senators who are happy with the status quo—who think our current approach to energy and immigration and gay rights and all the rest is fine and shouldn’t be changed—should support the filibuster. But people who want you to believe that they support substantial policy reform need to explain how they envision that happening."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.