Journalists Spin for Republicans on the New "60-Vote" Senate Regime

12/15/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

In the lead story on the front page of today's New York Times,David M. Herszenhorn notes that Connecticut Senator Christopher Dodd "did not believe there would be enough Republican support to get the 60 votes needed to move a bill forward" on the General Motors bailout. Later in the piece, Herszenhorn writes: "Passing any legislation to aid the auto companies would require 60 votes in the Senate . . . meaning Democrats would need the support of at least 11 Republicans." Nowhere in the article does this top-flight journalist insert a single phrase explaining to readers that the "60 vote" threshold is an artificial obstructionist creation of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and the Senate Republicans. For Herszenhorn it's simply assumed that the Democrats must reach 60 votes for now on (and in perpetuity) to pass any legislation Republicans don't like. When mainstream journalists repeat, mantra-like, the "need" for the Democrats to secure 60 votes to pass anything in the U.S. Senate without giving the assertion context they are framing the issue on Republican terms.

Herszenhorn is not alone among mainstream journalists in his bland acceptance of a new Senate order where majority vote is a thing of the past. It's astonishing that even though the Republican Party reached its nadir recently and has been handily defeated in the last two election cycles, and President George W. Bush and Mitch McConnell are two of the most unpopular politicians in America, mainstream journalists still insist on covering the Senate as if it is "normal" for a party to demand filibuster-proof majorities to get anything done.

The 60-vote requirement is not "normal." It's reprehensible and obstructionist.

The Republicans have set a new record for filibusters in the 111th Congress, 94 and counting, a staggering number that has never before been attempted in our nation's history. The mainstream press greets this historic Republican abuse of power with a collective yawn and is so lazy, complacent, or bought off by the Right-wing mindset, it refuses to clarify the issue for its readers, most of whom might not be up to speed on the arcane cloakroom practices in the world's "greatest" deliberative body.

Don't journalists have an obligation to tell their readers that the Senate does NOT require 60 votes to pass legislation? And shouldn't reporters note that the new "60-vote threshold" is just the latest partisan Republican trick to come down the pipeline? Readers of this blog should contact the Times' Public Editor, Clark Hoyt and complain.

When the Democrats were in the Senate minority they did not dare force President Bush to garner 60 votes to pass legislation. And when the Democrats did show the temerity to filibuster a few of Bush's Attila-the-Hun judge appointments the Republicans, led by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee, shrieked and hollered and threatened the "nuclear option" of ridding the Senate of the pernicious filibuster once and for all that the "obstructionist" Democrats had wielded so recklessly. It took a "Gang of 14" Senators to come together to stop the Republicans from eliminating the filibuster. At the time I wanted to keep it because it is an age-old custom -- concocted by crotchety Senators -- to protect the rights of the minority. But after seeing how McConnell and his partisan jackals have so abused it over the past two years, I wish Frist and the Republicans had been successful in getting rid of the damn thing.

Can anyone imagine the kind of press reaction if the Democrats had blocked Republican legislation with 94 filibusters in a two-year period? I don't think Herszenhorn and other mainstream journalists would be blandly repeating: "Gee, whiz, the Republicans really need to pass that 60-vote threshold."

The Republicans' abuse of the filibuster, and the mainstream press's acceptance of it as the new status quo, raises some thorny Constitutional and political questions as well that mainstream journalists choose to ignore. If it is now the "norm" to require 60-votes in the Senate then I guess the Constitutional role of the Vice-President to break ties is moot now -- right? It makes the Vice President even more irrelevant. Someone should tell Sarah Palin the VP job just got a lot easier.

Moreover, when Herszenhorn and other mainstream journalists repeat the 60-vote myth without explaining its partisan origins the frame plays right into the hands of McConnell and John McCain and other Republicans who denounce the Democratic-controlled Congress for its "do-nothingism." The mainstream press is carrying water for the GOP every time it reports McConnell's or other Republicans' phony charges that the Democratic Congress cannot get anything done. Why do they get to charge the Democrats with not "doing" anything while they abuse the filibuster more than ever to make sure nothing gets done? Isn't it the responsibility of journalists to set this record straight? Or are they content to be complicit in Republican lies and spin?