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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

The Mythical Supermajority

Chris Bowers has an OpenLeft post about the futility of seeking a dependable filibuster-proof Senate supermajority. While Dems may be only one vote away from achieving a filibuster-proof supermajority on health care reform, Bowers crunches some numbers and concludes that overall, Dems would need 72 Senators to have a reliable filibuster-proof majority. His reasoning:

A look at Senate voting habits shows that it takes only 54 Republican Senators to reach 60 votes for conservative legislation, while it takes 72 Democratic Senators to reach 60 votes for progressive legislation. While the last sentence sounds like snark, it isn’t). Democratic Senators vote with Republicans significantly more often than Republican Senators vote with Democrats, making it much easier for Republicans to pass the kind of legislation they want.
According to Progressive Punch, looking only at “crucial votes,” the average Democratic Senator has voted with the progressive position 82.4% of the time over the course of their entire career. By contrast, looking only at crucial votes, the average Republican Senator has voted with the progressive position 3.5% of the time throughout their entire career.
Voting habits like these mean that, in order to reach 60 progressive votes on crucial votes, Democrats actually need 72 Senators ((72 * 0.824) + (28 * 0.035) = 60.3 effective votes). By contrast, Republicans only need 54 Senators to break progressive filibusters of their agenda ((46 * 0.176) + (54 * 0.965) = 60.2 effective votes).

Of course, Bowers’ calculations have to do with averages, rather than specific situations, like health care reform legislation. But his point that a reliable filibuster-proof supermajority for a progressive agenda is not achievable under current rules is a good one. Further, under current rules,

The main choice is thus between:
1. Never having a progressive majority and usually being able to block anti-progressive legislation,
2. Occasionally having a progressive majority and rarely being able to block anti-progressive legislation.

Bowers concludes of the current filibuster rule that “A progressive majority in the Senate simply impossible as long as it exists” — a well-reasoned case for reducing the filibuster threshold or getting rid of it altogether.

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