Only in the U.S. Senate does 40 votes beat 58 votes, as minority Republicans blocked a vote on the nomination of Chuck Hagel, a former GOP Senate colleague, to be secretary of defense.
Minority parties have used Senate rules before to block the will of the majority, but never have they used the threat of a filibuster to block an up-or-down vote on the defense chief. The unprecedented parliamentary move was a blatant partisan action to delay a vote Republicans are destined to lose.
The action again draws attention to the unique rules of the 100-member Senate, where almost any substantial decision takes not 51 votes but 60 – the number needed to end a filibuster. But both parties agreed to lighten up on the rules more than 20 years ago, and now the minority party only has to threaten a filibuster rather than actually require senators to speak on the floor as part of a debate. The result has been far less action because minority parties don’t even have to work to get a filibuster.
But Democrats have an option.
With 51 votes, they can force a real filibuster, requiring their colleagues to cancel their social events, stay in the Senate chamber and actually deliver speeches.
What a concept.