A discussion with good friends from Canada recently led me to conclude that even they had no real comprehension of how the filibuster has changed in recent years. They are retired professionals I met when we were all graduate students at UC Davis, and they spent many years working in NYC before moving to Canada many years ago. So, at the very least, I would think they would have a good concept of how the filibuster used to work.
It used to take sixty votes to end a debate and allow the Senate to take up other business by finishing that needed for completion of the issue being filibustered.
Now it takes 40 out of 100 agreeing to talk about something to open the debate at all.
Forty not being willing to discuss an item at all is very different from forty being willing to continue a debate forever.
How can anyone think these are the same thing? Yet few seem to address the difference at all, acting as if this has always been the way the Senate has worked.
The one way (40 to open debate) invites a tyranny of the minority–which is exactly what tied up our government for the first two Obama years, and which has continued for the last four years because the House is now in the hands of the minority and they have grown to like a government that does nothing rather than one that only does a few, even quite popular things.
The other (60 to close a debate) gives the minority a way to make a substantial objection when an issue is vitally important to them despite their minority status. By the way, in strict Robert’s rules, this is normally 2/3, not 3/5, a slightly higher standard This may, in fact, have been the original Senate standard.
The one way (60 to close) is a critical check and balance appropriately proudly viewed as an American tradition. The other is counter-democratic and something to be viewed with disdain by anyone believing in majority rule.
Why are Senators happy with the new status quo, here? With a return to the way it used to be at least the obstruction of the House would be glaring.