Senator Tom Harkin’s commitment to end the abuse of the filibuster hasn’t waned just because Democrats managed to find 60 votes to pass health insurance reform. Harkin discussed the current dysfunction in the Senate with Ezra Klein:
In the past, we’ve always had one or two or three senators who would try to block something. The most famous was Jesse Helms. He could tie people up in a conniption. But the thing is, when he went too far, his leader, Bob Dole, wouldn’t put up with it. Neither would Trent Lott. And later on, even Bill Frist. You allow him to do so much, and after awhile, you say, that’s enough.
Now we have more of the Jesse Helms. The Vitters and DeMint and Coburn, and maybe throw in Inhofe and a couple other newcomers, and they now run the minority. You don’t have a minority leader putting them in check, saying we have to work together. Dole would never put up with what’s going on over there. Neither would Trent Lott. We’ve had 101 objections from Republicans to proceeding. […]
You’re supposed to filibuster something that is a deep seated issue. But in September, we had an extension on unemployment insurance. We had a filibuster that lasted over three weeks. They held up everything. And in the end, the vote was 97 to one. Filibusters are no longer used to debate something, but to stop everything. […]
The idea is to give some time for extended debate but eventually allow a majority to work its will. I do believe there’s some reason to have extended debate. If a group of senators filibusters a bill, you want to take their worries seriously. Make sure you’re not missing something. My proposal will do that. It says that on the first vote, you need 60. Then you have to wait two days, and on the third day, you need 57 votes. And then you need to wait two days, and on the third day, it’s 54 votes. And then you’d wait another two days, and on the third day, it would be 51 votes.
Harkin told Klein he will start looking for co-sponsors for this measure next month. Freshman Senator Jeff Merkley presumably will be an ally, as he has advocated reform of Senate procedures. Unfortuantely, Harkin is likely to run up against stiff resistance, and not only from Republicans. The de facto supermajority requirement for conducting Senate business empowers corporate hacks like Joe Lieberman, Blanche Lincoln and Evan Bayh, who caucus with Democrats but don’t support most of the progressive agenda.