This item by J.P. Green was first published on August 5, 2010.
Chris Bowers’s Open Left post, “Memo to Chris Dodd: We already have a unicameral legislature” provides one of the more succinct, lucid and compelling arguments for cloture reform yet presented. Bowers does a surgical shredding Senator Dodd’s case for keeping the 60 vote threshold for cloture. First up, Bowers shatters Dodd’s argument that the 60 vote requirement is needed to affirm the Senate’s unique role and the principle of our bicameral national legislature:
…You don’t need different vote thresholds to have a bicameral system. Consider:
1. 36 states have bicameral legislatures where no filibuster is allowed. Would Senator Dodd claim those 36 states do not actually have a bicameral system?
2. The 60-vote threshold is not in the Constitution. It just isn’t. That was never a requirement for a bicameral legislature.
3. If anything, the 60-vote threshold has created a unicameral system where the Senate has rendered the House irrelevant. Getting rid of the 60-vote threshold would give the two legislative bodies more equitable power.
I would add that the 60 vote cloture threshold is the foundation of gridlocked government, which is the primary goal of the G.O.P. I say this as an admirer of Senator Dodd, who has been one of the more reliable Democratic leaders on many key issues, but who, along with a handful of other Democratic senators, is simply wrong on cloture reform.
Behind the unicameral legislature nonsense, Dodd’s case is essentially fear-driven, the old ‘we’re gonna miss the 60 vote requirement when we are in the minority’ argument. And yes, that could happen on occasion. But majority rule — the foundation of genuine democracy — is really the more important principle at stake here, and if we can’t have that, a 55 vote threshold is a step toward it. The way it is now, urgently needed reforms that could help millions of people are being held hostage by the 60-vote threshold, and that is unacceptable for a any government that purports to reflect the will of the people.
Bowers notes some related reforms that merit more serious consideration, and which might be achievable in a shorter time horizon that that which would be required for reducing the 60 vote threshold:
…if we do a better job focusing on the wider range of proposed rule changes–such as making unanimous consent non-debatable, requiring the filibuster to be a real talkathon where Senators have to stay on the floor (as Senator Lautenberg has proposed), or switching the burden of the cloture threshold on the opposition (for example, 45 votes to continue a filibuster, rather than 60 to break it, as Senator Bennet has proposed)-then the interest and momentum for reform could increase as people debate a wider range of possible reforms.
Bowers concedes that achieving any reform is an uphill struggle in the current political climate. But he adds, “Senate rules are not going to stay the same forever. The rules have changed in the past, and will change again in the future” — a key point for progressive Democrats to keep in mind in working for cloture reform. Although the obstacles are formidable at this political moment, we have to begin somewhere.