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Bayh Addresses Elephant In The Senate, Calls For Filibuster Reform

Evan Bayh must have drank some Birch beer before sitting down with Andrea Mitchell today. Instead of simply blaming all the horrible partisanship and gridlock in the Congress without addressing the means by which that partisanship causes the gridlock, Bayh actually stood up and said the filibuster needed reform. Here’s a rough transcript.

BAYH: I go back to my father’s time, the great civil rights debates. The filibuster was being used to frustrate some basic, fundamental equities in this country. So the threshold was 67 votes in those days. They reduced it to 60. Now it’s being routinely used to frustrate even low-level Presidential appointees. So perhaps the threshold should be lowered once again.

MITCHELL: Would you propose steps, would you lead an effort in the Senate to change the filibuster rule?

BAYH: You know, I would… (crosstalk) Well, that’s right, but Tom Harkin and others have talked about this. I think it’s something we need to do, perhaps looking at changing the threshold once again, down to 55. Perhaps saying that, Administration appointees, other than the very highest ones, should not be subject to the filibuster. Because it’s just brought the process to a halt, and the public is suffering. So the minority needs to have a right. I think that’s important. But the public has a right to see its business done. And not routinely allow a small minority to keep us from addressing the great issues that face this country. I think the filibuster absolutely needs to be changed.

One of Bayh’s ideas, that lower-level political appointees should get an up-or-down vote in a prescribed period of time, mirrors an idea Jeff Merkley offered to me last year. On lowering the threshold to 55, I don’t really see why you don’t just advocate for majority rule.

However, this was important for a variety of reasons. Bayh here finally cited the MEANS by which all these abstract concepts of “partisanship” and “gridlock” get their purchase. Before he sounded like a self-important blowhard assuming the superiority of his “centrist” policy ideas, as if partisanship hasn’t been a function of American government since its founding. Here, he actually identifies the problem – fix the process and suddenly the problems of gridlock start to melt away. And he actually manages to offer a pretty good case for majority rule – the public, who selects its representatives, has a right to see its will expressed after it delivers a mandate.

It’s immaterial whether Bayh thinks his brand of mushy centrism and fiscal peacockery would fare better under a change in Senate rules. What’s crucial here is that we have a Democrat actually stating the reasons for the lack of action from Washington, combined with a real proposal to fix it.

Of course, it would be preferable, if Bayh wanted to actually change the rules of the Senate to make it a better institution for his children and the future of the country, for him to STAY and actually get that done. So his departure because of the difficulty of things smacks of cowardice. However, if someone like Bayh is willing to identify the Senate rules as the source of the problem, then old lions like Chris Dodd, who called such reforms “foolish,” are probably in the deep minority in the chamber.

…Hilariously, in a successive segment Andrea Mitchell and her warmed-over pack of Villagers focused not on Bayh calling for process reform but, yes, “partisanship.”

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David Dayen

David Dayen