08/11/2013 10:52 am ET Updated Oct 11, 2013

The Dispassionate Case for a 55-Vote Filibuster Rule

Yep, you heard it here first, before it happened. The deal averting the 'nuclear option' to abolish the filibuster for President Obama's executive department nominees was doomed before it was even negotiated. Just as I predicted, Republicans resumed their intransigence even before the ink was dry on that one.

Too many Republican members of Congress, and far too many of their constituents, consider President Obama a usurper, not because they really believe he was born in Kenya, but because he is black. The Kenya fantasy is a rationale to allow them to convince themselves that they are not racist. (There is an easy test for that premise -- ask the 60-plus percent of Republicans who still assert they believe President Obama is a usurper if they think Ted Cruz (R-TX) is ineligible for the presidency because he was born outside the U.S., but, like the president, has an American mother.)

Democracy requires civility, and no democratic political structure works if the participants do not accept the processes as legitimate and, therefore, controlling. "Right-wing" and "civility" in all societies are oxymorons, because right-wing movements claim absolute truths that trump the legitimacy of any political process. There is no tool too blunt, no lie too outrageous, no population too vulnerable to attack, that is more important to them than wielding absolute power.

While old Senate Democrats (e.g., Levin, Feinstein, Boxer) still venerate institutional traditions more than they want to cure their abuse, Republicans have no embarrassment at blocking and mocking every single initiative of a black president from the way he arranges the White House furniture to his wife's role model combating childhood obesity to formerly routine bills to fund infrastructure repair.

I believe it is time to abolish the filibuster entirely because the gross misrepresentation of the population in the Senate has increased. Wyoming's 570,000 citizens get the same two votes as California's 38 million, nearly a 70-to-one power advantage for Wyoming, compared to a 10-to-one or 14-to-one power advantage for Virginia over Delaware in 1790.

But, so long as the old fogies in the Senate believe there will be a return to civility and thus allow traditions to trump a fair reflection of the elections, there is still a dispassionate case to be made that filibusters should require 55, not 60 votes, to be stopped.

A 55-vote cloture requirement is 55 percent of senators. 55 percent-45 percent is considered a landslide in any presidential election. Note, for example, that although President Obama in 2012 handily won more than 60 percent in the Electoral College (332-206), he won just over 51 percent of the popular vote.

In the absence of respect for the process they defend, therefore, a 60-vote cloture requirement guarantees gridlock when the Democrats are in the majority (when Republicans hold the majority, the Democrats cave, so it does not matter so much anyhow).

A 55-vote cloture requirement is still a supermajority by election standards, but achievable with the equivalent of a Senate landslide. It ought to satisfy the more traditional senators who want to retain the filibuster.

55 votes, and no more, should be sufficient, therefore, to bring a nominee or bill to the Senate floor for a vote.