The Comprehensively Broken Senate.

The latest breakdown in the operations of the world's most farcical legislative body that Paul mentions below should serve as a reminder that the Senate's crazy anti-democratic rules go well beyond the filibuster. As Mark Tushnet recently noted, getting rid of the filibuster in itself probably wouldn't accomplish very much:

Changing the rule over the objections of a cohesive minority that's big enough -- as the Republican minority is -- would immobilize the Senate because an enormous amount of the Senate's work gets done by unanimous consent to the waiver of otherwise applicable rules. (Remember the contretemps over reading Senator Sanders's substitute amendment for the health care reform bill? The rules require reading such amendments, which almost never happens because the proposer seeks and obtains unanimous consent to waive that rule.) By denying unanimous consent to such waivers, a minority can stall legislation almost as effectively as it can through the modern form of the filibuster.

The problems posed by non-filibuster obstructions can also be seen in Republican threats to derail a Senate reconciliation vote on health care.  But this brings us the other issue Paul discusses, the asymmetry in how the two parties approach minority obstruction.  (As an example of how shameless the GOP has become, take Jim DeMint's assertion that using the majority voting rules that prevail in pretty much every other legislative body in the world would be "tyrannical"; tyranny of minorities of one, apparently, doesn't count.)

I think Paul identifies the critical fact here: Until Senate Democrats realize that the Republican minority is simply no longer willing to adhere to norms that allowed the institution to function despite its stupid rules, basic governance will be enormously difficult.  Dems need to realize that the party in power will be held responsible by the electorate for these failures either way, so they need to do what they can to move the Senate toward majority rule.

--Scott Lemieux

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