In an otherwise decent piece about Harry Reid’s continuing attempt to corral support for the public option, this paragraph sticks out like a sore thumb:
Just six weeks ago the public option appeared to be dying, under fierce attack by the insurance industry. A clear majority of Democratic senators favor a government-run plan. But public statements by other senators indicate that the proposal lacks the 60 votes ordinarily needed to secure Senate approval for hotly contested legislation. [Emphasis mine]
The problem, of course, is that there is nothing ordinary about this 60 vote requirement. “Hotly contested legislation” – like any other piece of legislation – requires the support of only a simple majority to become law, and that’s been the case for the vast majority of American legislative history. In fact, and as congressional expert Norm Ornstein explained earlier this year, this extra-constitutional 60 vote requirement is a relatively recent development, with the number of cloture motions growing steadily over the past thirty years, with a particularly sharp spike during the 110th Congress:
That we’ve basically acclimated to this new 60-vote requirement without much in the way of protest is really a sad commentary on our politics: we’ve gotten so used to legislative inaction that its institutionalization really isn’t that big of deal. That said, even if we were eliminate the filibuster and make the Senate a more majoritarian institution, it would still be functionally broken. The Senate is simply too unrepresentative and too powerful to not have an incredibly strong status-quo bias.
If the Senate were something akin to the House of Lords, hidebound and sort of useless but without real power or influence, it would still be really annoying but not terribly critical. As it stands however, we live with the worst possible arrangement: the Senate is both dysfunctional and an integral part of the legislative process.