Alexander Hamilton is quoted in the article (from Federalist No. 22) as follows:
"To give a minority a negative upon the majority (which is always the case where more than a majority is requisite to a decision) is…to subject the sense of the greater number to that of the lesser number.” He added that such a provision would “destroy the energy of government,” handing outsized power to “an insignificant, turbulent or corrupt junto."What an apt description of the way Congress functions today. Polls show that voters dislike Congress and its leaders in both parties as much as ever, and that, for the most part, they dislike the Republican leadership and its programs more than the Democratic leadership and its programs. Yet politically, the Republicans stand to gain the most in the short term from this voter discontent, in part because of the way they have maintained unity in Congress and have insisted on 60 votes for virtually anything to pass. Because the Democrats control Congress by solid majorities, voters tend to blame the Democrats for whatever Congress gets done or can't get done. Because the Republicans stand together in opposition, and refuse to allow any major piece of legislation to the floor for a simple up or down vote, they are able to argue that Democrats have "rammed through" or "shoved down their throats" bills like the stimulus or health care reform or financial regulation, all three of the major legislative achievements of the Obama presidency so far, even though much stronger versions of all of these bills would have been supported by the majority in Congress. (The whole idea that anything supported by a three fifths majority has been "rammed through" is patently ridiculous, yet the minority's embrace of the filibuster allows them to assert this ridiculous argument.) Without such frequent use of the filibuster, we also probably would have been able to pass energy legislation and immigration reform, get judges and other appointees confirmed, and ratify arms control agreements, and we wouldn't even be talking about extending the Bush tax cuts on the highest-income Americans, something that only a minority of the public supports.
Not only have the Republicans been able to energize their base by falsely portraying themselves as victims of the Democratic steamroller, Democrats have also been dispirited and weakened by the device. The left tends to blame the Democratic leadership for the concessions that were necessary to get people like Joe Lieberman and Blanche Lincoln and Ben Nelson, and occasionally Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe on board to pass important bills. Strangely, they do not blame the unified opposition that has forced the use of super-majorities to pass these bills. Requiring super-majorities has now become such an accepted practice that we rarely protest when the minority takes advantage of this "legitimate" tool to block or delay legislation supported by the majority.
Voters cannot be expected to be experts in Senate rules, and even experts seem to have gotten accustomed to the corrupt system we now take for granted. So voters are not angry about abuse of the rules, and are not crying out for rules reform. They are angry that Congress seems so polarized, and that its leaders do not work well together. My guess is that we will not achieve reform of a rule that in Hamilton's words, is destroying the energy of government and allowing a corrupt junto to maintain control of Congress, unless and until both parties perceive that the rule is hurting both parties politically.