I've never understood why a "super-majority" of 60 is needed to get anything done in the US Senate.
It's all down to the procedural rules of the Senate.
A potential showdown vote to limit Senate filibusters would not come until January. Democrats are threatening to resort to a seldom-used procedure that could let them change the rules without GOP support, all but inviting Republican retaliation.
Interesting enough, "filibuster" is derived from the Spanish word for "pirate" or "privateer", and it allows an individual to extend debate on a measure ad infinitum, which kills the bill being debated.
60 members can vote to end the debate, or "cloture".
The meat of the article is:
Frustrated by the GOP's growing use of filibusters, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is considering a Senate vote in the new year to limit their use.
"I think that the rules have been abused and that we're going to work to change them," Reid, D-Nev., told reporters this past week. "We're not going to do away with the filibuster, but we're going to make the Senate a more meaningful place, we're going to make it so that we can get things done."
Democrats say that vote to change the rules would require a simple majority of senators, and they argue that the Constitution lets Senate majorities write new rules for the chamber. That, in effect, would mean Democrats could change the rules over GOP opposition, assuming 51 Democrats go along.
It seems these rules are very sensitive to the Senators, and the GOP would be very put out if the Dems change them with a simple majority, which is something that is allowed but not often used due to the extreme sensitivity of the rules.
However the Dems feel the GOP are using the rules to an extreme level, and are not talking about eliminating the filibuster, but weakening it:
Democrats say, Republicans frequently have used stalling tactics to prevent the Senate from even beginning to debate bills. They then bog down debate by insisting on votes on piles of amendments, including many on unrelated issues that are designed to score points in future election campaigns, Democrats say.
Reid wants to prevent filibusters on "motions to proceed," which let the Senate begin debating a bill, and aides say he might consider other restrictions as well. Reid plans to discuss it with fellow Democrats in the postelection session. Discussions with McConnell could occur as well, Democratic aides said.
Seems the data does suggest that the cloture has had to be invoked at a record level:
According to the Senate Historian's Office, the number of "cloture petitions" — a procedural step that sets up a vote to end a filibuster — was 68 in the two-year session of Congress running from 2005 to 2006, the last time Democrats were in the minority.
But that number has exceeded 100 for each of the past three two-year sessions, all of which have seen Republicans in the minority, peaking at 139 in the 2007-2008 session. There have been 109 in the current 2011-2012 session, with several more weeks of lame duck meetings expected.
Wiki describes the "nuclear option" as:
In U.S. politics, the "nuclear option" allows the United States Senate to reinterpret a procedural rule by invoking the argument that the Constitution requires that the will of the majority be effective on specific Senate duties and procedures. This option allows a simple majority to override the rules of the Senate and end a filibuster or other delaying tactic. In contrast, the cloture rule requires a supermajority of 60 votes (out of 100) to end a filibuster. The new interpretation becomes effective, both for the immediate circumstance and as a precedent, if it is upheld by a majority vote.
Although it is not provided for in the formal rules of the Senate, the nuclear option is the subject of a 1957 parliamentary opinion by Vice President Richard Nixon and was endorsed by the Senate in a series of votes in 1975, some of which were reconsidered shortly thereafter. Senator Trent Lott (R-Miss.) first called the option "nuclear" in March 2003. Proponents since have referred to it as the constitutional option.
The maneuver was brought to prominence in 2005 when then-Majority Leader Bill Frist (Republican of Tennessee) threatened its use to end Democratic-led filibusters of judicial nominees submitted by President George W. Bush. In response to this threat, Democrats threatened to shut down the Senate and prevent consideration of all routine and legislative Senate business. The ultimate confrontation was prevented by the Gang of 14, a group of seven Democratic and seven Republican Senators, all of whom agreed to oppose the nuclear option and oppose filibusters of judicial nominees, except in extraordinary circumstances.
It's an immense issue.
It's clear many on the GOP have kept talking about the Senate's inability to pass a budget, but the GOP has had these powerful rules that allow them to put sticks into the spokes of the wheels. The main issue for the Dems is that chances are good that sooner or later they'll find themselves in the minority and want to have the ability to filibuster things as well.
So, it's a perverse situation: You are in power now, yet you don't want to abuse power because you think you may not be in power in the future. However, because you are in power now, your constituency expects you to be able to use that power and get things done.
The Wiki above shows the stalemate was broken by an agreement not to use filibusters of judicial nominees except in extraordinary circumstances, but doesn't seem to have coverage for other situations, and clearly the Dems feel the GOP has been abusing the filibuster.
So, do we think Reid et all will have the nerve to "go nuclear"?