House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has some advice for her Senate counterparts: Try majority rule for a change. Pelosi, in an interview with the Huffington Post, called for an end to the filibuster, which she labeled "the 60-vote stranglehold on the future."
Pelosi (D-Calif.) said that "the Senate has to go to 51 votes, and not 60 votes."
The filibuster, which was not an original element of the Senate, has evolved over the body's history and has only recently become the upper chamber's standard operating procedure. The Senate was designed as a majority-rule institution that allowed for extended debate. Under the Constitution, the vice president is empowered to break 50-50 ties. Such a clause would be wildly out of place if the framers intended for a 60-percent majority to be required.
Senate Democrats are eying January as the time to reform the filibuster, when the Senate convenes a fresh Congress and votes to establish rules. New rules can be approved by a majority vote if the presiding officer, Vice President Joe Biden, allows the vote to go forward. Liberals in the Senate worked hard to reform the filibuster between the 1950s and 1970s, eventually succeeding in reducing the threshold from two-thirds to 60. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), chairman of the Rules Committee, is holding hearings looking into the future of Senate rules and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has endorsed some sort of reform.
Pelosi pressed the Senate to act, arguing that the threshold is preventing real reform and also obscures the differing visions of the two parties. Given a chance, said Pelosi, Democrats would transform the economy.
"There's something wrong with the idea that jobs are a justification for degradation of the society," said Pelosi. "Job creation is about something different than exploiting people, degrading the environment, all the rest of it, oil and coal, chop down trees so we have jobs and destroy the environment."
Getting from where the nation is to a sustainable place would require doing away with the filibuster, she said.
"It's very doable. It's just a decision. And one of the decisions that has to be made is that the Senate has to go to 51 votes and not 60 votes. Otherwise, we are totally at their mercy," she said. "Unfortunately, [the difference between the parties] is muddled by the fact that we have these majorities, we have the White House, and they demand 60 votes."
Pelosi said the prospect of Senate GOP obstruction hangs over progressive legislation like a pall, because conservative Democrats don't want to take a tough vote for a bill that won't become law. "I can get a great deal accomplished from my members -- we never lose -- but they get discouraged to do big spending bills, unpaid for, unless there's some thought that the Senate is going to do something... They don't really want to be target practice for all the people saying 'You're a big spender, big spender, big spender,' and nothing came from it," she said. "It has become like the ghost."