Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Filibuster-Proof Majority?

Does Al Franken's victory give the Democrats a filibuster-proof majority? In theory, yes. In practice, it'll be kind of tough.

The Senate's famous Rule 22, innocuously titled "Precedence of Motions," provides that a cloture motion can be passed by "three-fifths of the Senators duly chosen and sworn," which means that the Democrats would have to get all 60 of their members to vote for cloture to defeat a Republican filibuster. That won't be so easy, with two of the Democrats being quite sick, two of them really being Independents, and several of them being moderates who don't necessarily stick to the party line. Of course, they might pick up a Republican or two to make up for it, but based on recent history that doesn't look so easy either.

Bear in mind that even a successful cloture vote doesn't mean that the Senate immediately proceeds to vote on the pending bill; it just means that debate will eventually be brought to a close. Rule 22 provides for thirty hours of debate, which can include amendments, following a successful cloture motion. And the Senate rules provide innumerable other ways to clog up business, plus there's the "hold" practice that isn't even in the rules.

What the Democrats should do is use their filibuster-proof majority to amend the filibuster rule to make things a little smoother. Like perhaps they could lower the cloture vote to 55. That would be quite a change.

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