Budget passes; 2/3 "rule" is alive and well
Wed May 4, 2011 2:24 pm

These past two days are not the first time the Senate has been to the brink of getting rid of the two-thirds rule (remember that Voter I.D. was debated and passed under a special order in 2009, and, of course, Dewhurst did not observe it during congressional redistricting in 2003), and it probably won’t be the last. The passage of the budget on a “House bill” day, which did not necessitate a rules change, allowed the combatants to back away from confronting the issue of the future of the two-thirds rule directly. The budget passed on a party-line 19-12 vote, without a lot of discussion (unlike yesterday).

The greatest danger to the two-thirds rule is partisanship. It seemed to me, watching from the gallery yesterday, that the Democrats were acting in a more partisan mode than the Republicans, particularly when Davis ever so eloquently reviewed the budget crises of 2003 and 2006. Of course, the Republicans, being the majority, had no incentive to engage in debate about their past sins. Ogden got off the best line of the day, when Gallegos was praising him. Instead of accolades, Ogden said, he would rather have two more votes. Of the Democrats who spoke yesterday, Whitmire seemed to be the person most concerned about the two-thirds rule; he spoke in such muted tones, as if he were attending a funeral, that it was hard to hear him at times.

In any event, I think the two-thirds rule is a lot healthier than it might seem. It is going to be difficult to sustain in an era of polarized politics, but the Senate has a great incentive to sustain it–mainly, that the two-thirds rule is what gives senators their power. Eleven senators can block debate on a bill. A House member is one of one hundred and fifty. A senator is one of eleven. Do away with the two-third rule and the Senate is no different from the House. The two-thirds rule forces senators to negotiate with each other. It forces them to seek consensus. It elevates the Senate above the House. Why would senators willingly give this up? The “rule” will continue to be bent in the future, but I think senators of both parties know it it not in their interests to break it.  

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