How to work around a filibuster
Scott Brown's win in MA means Democrats no longer have 60 Senate votes and can't prevent a filibuster, but there are other ways to get bills passed.
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The election of Republican Scott Brown as Massachusetts's new junior senator on Tuesday night generated shock waves that rippled through Washington. Politicians of both parties flocked to microphones to give their takes on the future of the health care bill now that the Democrats no longer have 60 votes in the Senate and can't prevent a filibuster.
Is 60 really that big a deal when many presidents have gotten an agenda through without a filibuster-proof majority?
Julian Zelizer, is a congressional historian at Princeton and author of "Arsenal of Democracy: The Politics of National Security -- From World War II to the War on Terrorism." He calls the 60-vote rule a great source of frustration.
"Now we expect 60 votes on almost every piece of legislation in the Senate," said Zelizer. "It's the product of the last two or three decades really, as the filibuster gradually became a normalized tool of combat in American politics."
New York Representative Anthony Weiner (D-NY) says he's sick and tired of "worshipping at the alter" of the 60-vote rule in the Senate. He blames it for creating the "logjam" in government that many decry.
"If we simply had majority rule ... we'd probably have a public option; we'd probably have an expanded Medicare with longer life expectancy for the program; we'd probably have the doughnut hole from prescription drugs that would be closed so seniors wouldn't be without coverage; we'd probably have things like young people, when they get out of college, being covered under their parent's plan."
The odds may seem to be falling against President Obama's bet on the 60-vote majority to pass health care legislation. But, says Julian Zelizer, other presidents in the past have faced similar circumstances and still managed to get major pieces of legislation passed.
"We compare [President Obama] to Lynden Johnson, who bet on a 67-vote bill, which was civil rights," said Zelizer. "But he pushed and shoved and cajoled, and he got Republicans to come over to his side. But not through nice politics; through hardball politics. And he got the Civil Rights Bill in 1964."
Zelizer believes President Obama's hope for bipartisanship in health care legislation was misplaced.
There are other paths the president can take, says Zelizer. "Using things like reconciliation, the budget process that allows you to avoid a filibuster ... the other is to use presidential power to do what Speaker Pelosi does in the house, and other speakers have done, to really lean on all members of the Democratic party and force their hand to vote for this bill."
Leaning on legislators to vote a certain way is also the job of a Senate whip. Republican Whip Eric Cantor said yesterday that he believes there is a way for the parties to work together on health care.
Representative Anthony Weiner doesn't buy it. "Eric Cantor and his party have made it clear that they are not going to participate in anything that will give President Obama any success. They've been the post partisan of pacts in this process. That's not a procedural problem, that's a strategic problem that the Republicans have made the determination they don't want the president to have any success, so that's the posture they've taken."
Weiner is all for the use of presidential power to get around the filibuster problem. "The only way we get things built in this country is by muscular presidential leadership," he said.
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