William Greider, writing at The Nation last December, urged the Senate to change the cloture threshold. There’s nothing sacred about sixty votes. It’s been changed more than once during our history, the last being in 1975, when Democrats ran out of patience with Southern Democrats holding up civil rights legislation and reduced the threshold from 67 to 60.
If ever the Senate had reasonable cause to lower the threshold, it’s now. The 2007-2008 Senate set a record: 138 cloture motions to limit debate and head off filibusters. That’s double the number from ten years ago and Greider asks: “Who really believes McConnell will voluntarily give up his starring role as Senator No?”
So far, I don’t see any indication Democratic Senators are considering Greider’s solution, but something almost as good is in the offing. Obama has warned the GOP that Democrats are prepared to use a procedural move called reconciliation that’s possible on budgetary measures, allowing the Senate to pass a bill with only 51.
Upset with getting a GOP goose egg from the GOP, twice, on his stimulus bill, Obama warned Republican senators that they would not have veto power over health care legislation. Either pass something by mid-October or face reconciliation. And the same message went out to Democrat Ben Nelson of Nebraska, who has been holding out against reform in an effort to protect the student lending institutions in his home state.
Going around obstructionists could get habit forming. Who knows? Democrats might get to like it so much that they’d be willing to consider Greider’s (not very) outrageous suggestion. Ask anybody in the labor movement if they’d like to see it happen. Not only would card check pass, but Arlen Specter would be robbed of a chance to look heroic to the nutcases who might vote against him in a primary.
Would that Reid had the cojones to lead this charge.