Bill Press writes that “Senate rules require only 51 votes to pass legislation, not 60” and that a little old-fashioned party discipline could turn things around:
As for those wayward senators like Nelson or Landrieu, there’s only one thing Democrats are lacking: discipline. This may be a whole new concept for Democrats, who are not used to marching in lockstep. But if Barack Obama and Harry Reid are willing to play hardball by withholding committee assignments, White House invitations, campaign contributions, and endorsements, they’ll be surprised how soon Democrats will get in line.
J.P. Green replies that “Regardless of party discipline, most of these senators have substantial moderate/conservative constituencies to answer to.” This is true, but I think it’s also why the filibuster point is critical. If the issue were really that Ben Nelson has a deep-seated desire to advance a progressive legislative agenda but worries about how it’ll play back home in Nebraska, it would be easy enough for him to decide that the key priorities on which Barack Obama won a national mandate last November all deserve an up or down vote. If he ultimately chose to vote “no” on legislation that he thinks Nebraska voters won’t support, that would be that. You don’t need Nelson’s vote to get to 50.
At the end of the day, though, you don’t erect procedural roadblocks to legislation because you’re playing to public sentiment back home. You use procedural roadblocks when you really don’t want something to pass.