Filibuster - the parliamentary maneuver that allows senators to block bills that lack 60 votes - has become a dirty word in Washington. Democrats are especially furious about it, now that Scott Brown, the new Republican senator from Massachusetts, has deprived them of their 60-vote super-majority, leaving President Obama's health legislation and many of his nominees in limbo.
Mr. Harkin and Ms. Shaheen announced today that they are
introducing a resolution that would reform Senate rules to create a kind of
sliding scale for the filibuster. Under their plan, when a bill came up for
consideration, 60 votes would be required at first to break a filibuster. But
after two days, the threshold would drop to 57; two days later, it would drop
to 54; and after another two days, only 51 votes, a simple majority, would be
The idea, Mr. Harkin said, is to give lawmakers time to debate, without allowing the minority to hold up legislation indefinitely. He produced statistics showing that the number of filibusters has risen exponentially in recent years; in the 1950s, an average of one bill was filibustered in each two-year Congressional session; in the most recent session of Congress, 139 bills faced filibusters.
"The filibuster is tearing apart the glue that holds our nation together - the glue of respect,'' the senator said, adding, "This abuse is paralyzing our democracy and making a mockery out of majority rule.''
Mr. Harkin said he comes to the issue with ‘'clean hands'': in 1995, when Democrats were in the minority, he proposed a similar rule change. But unfortunately for him and Ms. Shaheen, changing Senate rules requires 67 votes - an even bigger majority than breaking a filibuster - and at this point, not a single Republican is behind it.
Even the Senate Democratic leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, sounded dismissive of the idea.
"Well, I love Tom Harkin,'' Mr. Reid told reporters, when asked if he would consider it. "I'm totally familiar with his idea. It takes 67 votes. And that kind of answers the question.''