The High Price of Filibusters

Here’s a very interesting analysis from Chris Bowers about long-run trends in congress. First a chart highlighting the DW-NOMINATE scores of the median senator:

Claire McCaskill is, by this standard, the most progressive median senator since 1960. And she holds that distinction by a fairly wide margin. If you look at the 60th Senator, however, things are different:

With a 60-vote threshold, the current government is not an improvement on past Democratic trifectas. The 1977–1980 period was comparable to 2009, and the 1963–1968 period is comparable to the post-Massachusetts special election setup. Having Ben Nelson as the deciding vote is much worse than having Claire McCaskill as the deciding vote.

This highlights the extent to which in today’s more polarized legislative environment, finding ways to pass an agenda through a majoritarian process — be that filibuster reform or budget reconciliation — is absolutely crucial to the prospects for progressive policy. To look at it another way, Democrats are overwhelmingly likely to lose Senate seats in November. But curbing filibusters would be like gaining ten votes.