Up | December 01, 2012
>>> people here are afraid of a majority vote . i'm not afraid of a majority vote . i'm not afraid of that. and if the people elect these crazy tea party people to come in here and they vote to do all these whacko things, i say give them rope, a lot of rope, and then the american people will find out and we'll have a real election the next time around.
>> i just want to interject here for a moment to say that the stakes here, again, it's procedure, but the stakes are basically as high as it gets. the stakes are about what are the norms that govern democratic governance. i think the history of democratic governance is that rules are important but norms are even more important. when those norms degrade you begin to get degradation of the democratic process . i think we are viewing a kind of degradation of the norms, right? this kind of disintegration in the way the body operates, and i think that there's a way to address that.
>> majority compulsion will change the senate forever.
>> and by that you mean if they do the thing in which 51 senators are -- change the rules, you're saying that precedent will change it forever?
>> first of all, technically it only takes a majority to change the rules.
>> that's important. can you resay that? can you say that again?
>> a vote on an amendment to change the rules is a simple majority . the issue is ending debate on that question and there you do get into the filibuster.
>> and unlimited debate. the very nature of the senate as it's operated for two centuries is premised on the fact that debate is unlimited and that there is no general mode of majority compulsion. that contract has worked for 200 years.
>> by the way, you keep saying the senate for two centuries. i'm not sure the senate has a great two century record. just so we're clear here.
>> wait. senator, i want to get your response to that.
>> yes. there's two separate questions. the first is should everyone be able to make their case on the floor, and i think all of us who are arguing for these reforms are saying yes. and, in fact, the reforms will help make that happen. the second question is can 51 change the rules? it hasn't been mentioned here that that pandora's box has been opened several times in our history. the argument that it's a slippery slope , as if it's never been done, is simply wrong. the senate voted three times to support the notion that 51 could change the rules in 1975 . that's what led to a huge debate that resulted in the compromise that reduced the number required for a filibuster from 67 to 60. and so -- and in terms of a continuous body, you -- we must realize that it's only the rules we're talking about. committee chairmanships and assignments are redone, bills die at the end of a two-year period. the senate isn't continuous in any way except this contrived argument about the rules and three vice presidents have made the ruling that in fact 51 can change the rules. so there is precedent for saying that if the rules are off track, 51 can put them back on track.
>> in 1975 the senate reversed its procedural decision. the substantive goal was achieved. the reformers did get an amendment to the clouture rule limiting it to 2/3 to 3/5. so from 67 possibly --
>> they reduced it. they reduced the filibuster threshold because it was being abused.
>> there was a victory there based on the, quote, unquote, constitutional option going right up to the precipice and the senate procedurally having succeeded in having these rules amended procedurally backed away and said, no, this is not a procedural question.
>> the point is what underlies all of this discussion of rules is there is no other logic but majority logic at the end of the day there can be nothing other than majority logic that ultimately decides what is happening in that body.
>> because norms have changed.
>> we keep coming back to that. the reason we see all of this dysfunction is because folks aren't talking to each other anymore, they're not getting along. one point as a political scientist that i like to focus on is the electoral connection. i'm a big proponent of independent redistricting even though that doesn't affect the senate , it's something that happens at the very local level and then migrates up to the federal level .
>> in terms of this culture of essentially polarization?
>> exactly. polarization. i'm also a fan of nonpartisan primaries. there are some unintended consequences to that. we see at every level we become more and more entrenched in our partisan presence preferences. we've seen it in other issues. the senate has become dysfunctional.
>> if you take away the minority of the senate to --
>> that's the point she's making. you made the point that basically we should look at the abuse of the filibuster as a symptom of the deeper problem which is this polarization.
>> i actually disagree. i think when rules and norms get mismatched you have to change the rules. i want to thank senator jeff merkley , and akhil amar and al frumin. why we should take the president's plan to avert the fiscal cliff seriously after this.