Ending the Filibuster

Well, I thought it was big news, anyway. The filibuster isn’t completely gone yet, but Reid and the Senate Democrats certainly got its coats and gloves on. Once they shove it out the door, there will be no easy way for the minority party in the Senate to put a chokehold on the President’s agenda – for good or ill.

It takes a fifty-one votes to pass most legislation and nominations. But it takes sixty votes to end debate on those things. This means some Senators have to vote to end debate knowing they will lose the actual vote. This used to happen quite a bit, with enough Senators of both parties willing to cut deals just to move things along, but those Senators – from both parties – have been gradually voted out of office and replaced by people with more hard-line attitudes. So the Senate has been paralyzed by rules intended for a more collegial institution, not one marked by pitched partisanship.

Some people have interpreted this as our elected officials being more dedicated to their party than doing their goddamn job, but it seems to me like Senators are doing a better job than ever before: we used to complain about political wheeling and dealing interfering with “representing the people,” so we’ve voted the wheelers-and-dealers out, and partisans in.

What rushing the filibuster to the door does is make it easier for the majority party to stay true to their principals while getting the legislature’s work done. This is great if you happen to be the majority party and it really sucks if you’re in the minority. But this is how we, as voters, have asked our representatives to behave by becoming so intensely ideological ourselves.

See also:

  • Everything you need to know about Thursday’s filibuster change, Wonkblog
  • Three charts explain why Democrats went nuclear on the filibuster, Mother Jones
  • Average ideology of the House and Senate, Brookings Institution

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