I’ve gotten a few queries over the past week asking me to go beyond mere whining about the sorry institutional set up in the United States Senate to asking if there’s anything that can be done about it. The answer is that yes there is. Key elements of Senate procedure have been altered repeatedly throughout history and there have been failed efforts to do it that might have worked had folks been a bit more determined.
What’s missing right now is any sign from anyone politically important of any interest in turning up the heat. As Chris Bowers explains here it seems to be possible in practice for 50 Senators backed by the Vice President to force basically whatever procedural move they want. Traditionally, that’s not the way things have worked. Instead, having key people talk seriously about going this route has produced a political crisis and encouraged people to cut a deal. That’s how the filibuster got pared back from 67 votes to 60 votes. And it’s also how, as recently as 2005, Senate Democrats were persuaded to relent on several judicial filibusters.
But I’ve seen no sign of a serious public campaign of pressure from Barack Obama, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, or other leading figures to delegitimize this minoritarian obstruction.