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More Filibuster Reform Rumbling From The Senate

Mike Stark captured a good interview with Chris Dodd yesterday about the dysfunctional Senate and how it has to change. What’s crucial here is that Dodd is basically a lion of the Senate, someone who for years has preferred the institutional rules that slow things down. He’s defended the filibuster, and other Senate rules. And now

Dodd: This is all evidence of a dysfunctional institution. So I’m saddened in a way. The reason the Senate works is because of the chemistry of the members to make it work. That’s why it takes unanimous consent to do almost anything. And the essence of the Senate was basically a longer, slower look at things. Which I fundamentally agree with, I think that’s important, otherwise you create two chambers and a unicameral system. Because that’s the point where they get rid of one of the chambers, why would you constantly have two chambers to do what you can do in one… because we’re frustrated right now over an abusive use of a historic vehicle that led to the essence of what the Senate is, we’re about to abandon the essence of the Senate.

This all came in a defense of the Senate and its “essence” and its rules. Now, I actually agree with Dodd about moving to a unicameral system, although that’s not what he argued. But he talked about abandoning the essence of the Senate as if it’s a foregone conclusion.

It’s interesting seeing all these warhorses coming to grips with the fact that the Senators on the other side aren’t respecting the rules laid out for themselves, and how time may just be marching on by such rules. Joe Biden has a similar perspective.

I was a senator for 36 years. I got there when I was 29 years old. So I’ve been through seven presidents — eight now. And I’ve never seen a time when the operating norm to get anything passed was a super majority of 60 votes. No matter what — no matter what the bill is, it’s filibustered. It’s required to get 60 votes.

You can’t rule by a super majority. You can’t govern if you require a super majority. And I think it’s getting to the point where it’s been abused, this idea of the filibuster or the threat of extended debate.

And I think the public is taking it out — the — the Congress as a whole, Republicans and Democrats, are — are extremely low on the polls, in the Congress.

Neither Biden nor Dodd, who is retiring, will determine the future of the Senate rules process. Dodd may get a vote on Tom Harkin’s plan to gradually lower the threshold for filibusters over a period of weeks, but such a rule change would take 67 votes in the middle of a session, and if we could get that many votes, there wouldn’t be any need for the rule change. Harry Reid said as much today.

The only way you’re really going to change this is by allowing the Senate to set their own rules at the beginning of the next Congress, similar to what Tom Udall is proposing. But the talks that even the old warhorses are having amongst themselves, the internal dialogues being made public, allude to the fact that even they know a change has to come.

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David Dayen

David Dayen