Getting to 60

If we get 60 senators, maybe we can abolish the filibuster.

Bruce Reed is right: holding the Presidency and a solid working majority in the House, Democrats can get a lot done without 60 Democratic Senators.

But there’s one thing they could do with such a majority, and probably not without one: abolish the filibuster, along with the other super-majority rules in the Senate (e.g., to pass a tax increase). [Wrong! See update below.] Yes, there are times that a 60-vote supermajority requirement helps liberal causes. But they’re few and far between. Mostly the filibuster helps the right.

Moreover, the Senate is so profoundly undemocratic to start with due to the over-representation of rural states that we should be very wary of rules that make it even more undemocratic.

But since any proposal to abolish the filibuster is itself filibusterable, you need 60 votes to get rid of it. It’s not impossible that we could get one or two moderate Republicans to support such a change; still, it’s better to be able to rely on your own. If abolishing that rule is within reach, I hope Reid goes for it.

Update A reader points out that Rule XXII (the filibuster rule) requires a two-thirds vote – among those present and voting – to change Rule XXII itself. Dammit, I knew that! Wishful thinking is a terrible thing.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: