Our founding fathers set up a wonderful set of rules for us to govern by in our Constitution. Some would make some changes such as replacing the electoral college system of electing presidents with a popular vote system, but, by and large it's a great and timeless document. It is very specific on voting requirements for some issues such as requiring the Senate to have a two thirds majority of the members present to impeach a president. Surprisingly, though, the Constitution empowers each house to determine its rules of proceedings on ordinary passages of legislation.
One of the ways Congress utilizes the built-in flexibility of the legislative process provided by the Constitution concerns how debate on an issue is controlled. Debate can be unlimited on a piece of legislation and, therefore, those opposing a piece of legislation can conduct what is called a filibuster, first used in 1851, in an attempt to kill it through sheer fatigue and frustration by talking incessantly when given the floor. The only way to stop this is through cloture, a mechanism that ceases debate if three fifths(60) of the Senators agree to do so.
The result of this Senate rule, as we have seen in the recent health care debate, is that the minority can wield great power over the majority unless they can reach that magical number of 60 votes. Seeing this, the Senate voted to reduce the number of votes required to bring cloture from two thirds(66) to three fifths in 1975. It used to be rare that these tactics were employed, but now, in this age of partisanship just for the sake of partisanship, it is commonplace. So, it may be time to reduce that number once again.
To ensure that the majority actually rules and not the minority I suggest, along with others, that it be changed to a simple majority of 51. Read the following quote from Alexander Hamilton in the Federalist Papers: (As printed in "The 5000 Year Leap" by W. Cleon Skousen.)
"To give a minority a negative upon the majority (which is
always the case where more than a majority is requisite to a decision) is, in
its tendency, to subject the sense of the greater number to that of the lesser
number".The necessity of unanimity in public bodies, or something approaching
towards it, has been founded upon a supposition that it would contribute to
security. But its real operation is to
embarrass the administration, to destroy the energy of the government, and to
substitute the pleasure, caprice, or artifices of an insignificant, turbulent,
or corrupt junto to the regular deliberations and decisions of a respectable
The public business must in some way or other go forward. If a pertinacious minority can control the opinion of majority, respecting the best mode of conducting it, the majority in order that something may be done must conform to the views of the minority; and thus the sense of the smaller number will overrule that of the greater and give a tone to the national proceedings. Hence, tedious delays; continual negotiation and intrigue; contemptible compromises of the public good."
Even though that quote is over 200 years old it couldn't have been written better today to describe what is going on in Washington. Today's politicians, while publicly displaying a veiled idealism, in reality seem only concerned with playing partisan politics to defeat the opposition party at any and all costs. It is nothing short of war and as is the case in all wars truth is the first casualty. As we have, seen the tactic of repeating a lie, such as the "death panel" one, until the public starts believing it is an oft used weapon in the arsenal of politics.
This may or may not have started with Newt Gingrich and the "Republican Revolution" in 1994. But it is that kind of disdain for the opposition party and lust for power, exemplified by Tom DeLay's desire for a "permanent" Republican majority, that has gridlocked Washington and ensured that no bill gets passed without severely compromising it's intended goals, particularly when the minority party can unite and vote as one.
The latest version of "playing politics first" couldn't have been more clearly stated by one of the de facto leaders of the Republican Party, Rush Limbaugh, when he declared his desire for President Obama to fail. With that call for the games to begin, Party faithfuls do what they can to cause Democratic Party efforts to fail purely with the end goal in mind to gain back legislative seats in Congress come next election. Whether or not it is good for the country is a secondary issue with this 111th Congress. This was never more clear than the recent Senate vote on the health care bill where not one Republican voted for it even after the Democrats capitulated to them by pulling out the public option and the Medicare buy-in.
There have been others to suggest a change to the process. Recently Chris Matthews of MSNBC fame and the Huffington Report have supported reducing the number of votes required to bring cloture. Without it we will continue to get legislation that is a perversion of its original intent and doesn't reflect the will of the people. But then, can the will of the people ever be realized in a system where money interests have more power than the voters?
There are some who say that they would rather have gridlock in Congress where no legislation gets passed. In other words, America is better off if Congress does nothing at all. I must admit, this argument does have some merit.