The Washington Post

The End of Bipartisanship for Obama's Big Initiatives?

Sarah Binder joined a featured discussion in the Washington Post discussing the current administration's consideration to change the majority rule in the Senate

Republicans learned when they last controlled the Senate that reconciliation is worth its weight in gold: It allowed them to prevent Democrats from blocking George W. Bush's tax cuts with a filibuster. While opponents say that the filibuster is sacrosanct and reconciliation a power grab, neither charge is true. There's no reason President Obama shouldn't seek reconciliation protection for his health and energy agendas.

Opponents charge that reconciliation, which protects budget measures from a filibuster, undermines the Senate's commitment to minority rights. Throughout history, however, legendary Senate leaders Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, Nelson Aldrich and others struggled to adopt rules that would empower simple majorities. Even Robert Byrd -- the foremost defender of Senate tradition and the father of reconciliation -- sought to rein in filibusters. In recent decades the Senate has written dozens of laws allowing a simple majority to circumvent the chamber's 60-vote rule, crafting "fast-track" rules like reconciliation for trade agreements, war powers, military base closings and more.

Both parties regularly exploit the procedure to advance their agendas. Fast-track rules can lock in hard-fought compromise, taming the unpredictability that would otherwise arise from extended Senate debate. And knowing that only a simple majority is required might encourage the minority to engage the majority early, and more constructively, to ensure its voice is heard.


Read the full discussion »