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Biting the Bullet on Majority Rule

By Matthew Yglesias  

"Biting the Bullet on Majority Rule"

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Ruth Marcus says filibuster reformers should watch what we wish for:

There is a way around this, but it opens a parliamentary Pandora’s box. If Democrats succeed in establishing that the rules are open for change by majority vote, what happens if Republicans win a Senate majority in 2012? Democrats have 23 seats to defend that year compared with 10 for Republicans. Anyone want to bet the mortgage money on the outcome?

Imagine the start of the 113th Congress in January 2013. House Speaker John Boehner’s first act, once again, is to repeal what he calls “Obamacare.” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, invoking the Udall precedent, moves to change the rules to eliminate the filibuster, and his caucus – over howls from the Democratic minority – agrees. The Republican Senate then votes to repeal the health-care bill, which is promptly signed . . . by President Palin.

This is the most frequent objection I hear to Senator Udall’s proposal, but I don’t think it makes sense. The 113th Senate will change the rules to adopt a majority voting procedure if and only if a majority of members of the 113th Senate want to adopt a majority voting procedure. Republicans in the 109th Senate seriously considered doing this, but chose not to do so because supermajority voting is in the interests of Senators qua individuals. The 111th Senate didn’t even seriously consider making the switch, because supermajority voting is in the interests of Senators qua individuals. The 112th Senate is considering rule changes, but has dismissed majority voting out of hand because supermajority voting is in the interests of Senators qua individuals. The rules will be changed when partisanship and ideological fervor override considerations of egomania and vainglory. What the 112th Senate does is going to be irrelevant.

Of course the larger issue here is that if some future incarnation of Mitch McConnell does implement a majority voting procedure, that would be a good thing. It doesn’t take 60% to win a Senate seat, it doesn’t take 60% to win a Supreme Court case, it doesn’t take 60% to pass a bill in the Canadian parliament or the German one or the Dutch one. Counting how many members favor a measure versus how many oppose it and letting the side with the larger number carry the day is a very excellent way of conducting a vote.

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