A major reason for the frustrating gridlock in the Senate is that it now takes a supermajority — 60 votes — to pass just about anything. In this session of Congress alone, Republicans threatened to filibuster at least 100 pieces of legislation, “far more than any other since the procedural tactic was invented.” Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) has proposed legislation that would gradually lower the number of votes the Senate majority would need to block filibusters, and Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) also has a petition to reduce the Senate’s cloture threshold to 55 senators.
This morning, Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) told MSNBC that he is “totally opposed to the idea of changing the filibuster rules.” “I think that’s foolish in my view,” he added. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has also been lukewarm on the idea, saying that he doesn’t think there are enough votes to change the rules.
However, this afternoon on MSNBC, departing Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN) disagreed with his two colleagues, saying that filibuster reform is absolutely necessary:
MITCHELL: Do you think the filibuster can be changed? Could that happen now while you are still in the Senate?
BAYH: I think it can happen, Andrea. … I think this is something we need to do. Perhaps looking at changing the threshold once again down to 55. Perhaps saying things like administration appointees other than the various highest ones should not be subject to the filibuster, because it just brought the process to a halt and the public is suffering. … The public has a right to see its business done and not routinely allow a small minority to keep us from addressing the great issues that face this country. I think the filibuster absolutely needs to be changed.
As Bayh also pointed out, changing the filibuster is not without precedent. During the civil rights debates that his father, senator Birch Bayh, participated in, the filibuster “was being used to frustrate some basic fundamental equities in this country.” In 1975, the threshold then “reduced the number of votes required for cloture from two-thirds to three-fifths.”
Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) is “actively” supporting filibuster reform and is reportedly “in talks with a number of other Democratic senators regarding possible changes to Senate rules.” Vice President Biden, formerly a veteran senator, also expressed frustration with the current situation in a recent interview with CBS News, saying, “I don’t ever recall a time in my career where to get anything done, you needed a supermajority, 60 out of 100 senators. You can block anything with 60 (votes). I’ve never seen it this dysfunctional.”
David Dayen talks about why Bayh’s statement is significant.