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Posted by on Dec 21, 2009 in Economy, Health, Media, Politics, Society | 45 comments

Ending the Abuse of the Supermajority Rule

The difficulty of ending a filibuster because of the 60-vote rule, combined with the increasing abuse of the filibuster itself, has made the Senate a place where it is next to impossible to get anything done.

Paul Krugman is hardly the first person to make this observation, but he is certainly one of the most eloquent:

Some people will say that it has always been this way, and that we’ve managed so far. But it wasn’t always like this. Yes, there were filibusters in the past — most notably by segregationists trying to block civil rights legislation. But the modern system, in which the minority party uses the threat of a filibuster to block every bill it doesn’t like, is a recent creation.


Some conservatives argue that the Senate’s rules didn’t stop former President George W. Bush from getting things done. But this is misleading, on two levels.

First, Bush-era Democrats weren’t nearly as determined to frustrate the majority party, at any cost, as Obama-era Republicans. Certainly, Democrats never did anything like what Republicans did last week: G.O.P. senators held up spending for the Defense Department — which was on the verge of running out of money — in an attempt to delay action on health care.

More important, however, Mr. Bush was a buy-now-pay-later president. He pushed through big tax cuts, but never tried to pass spending cuts to make up for the revenue loss. He rushed the nation into war, but never asked Congress to pay for it. He added an expensive drug benefit to Medicare, but left it completely unfunded. Yes, he had legislative victories; but he didn’t show that Congress can make hard choices and act responsibly, because he never asked it to.

The “rule of 60” is not immutable. For Krugman’s ideas on how to change it, read the rest of his column.