The Chicagoist will be launching later but in the meantime please enjoy our archives.

Durbin: Health Care Reform Faces Fillibuster in Senate

By Kevin Robinson in News on Nov 10, 2009 6:40PM

While the House narrowly passed health care reform over the weekend, both the president and Senate Democrats were looking ahead to the next round. And while it appears that there will be at least a cursory fight over abortion funding in the Senate version of the bill, there seems to be a real concern over the ability of lining up 60 votes to pass the bill.

Speaking to the press in Chicago yesterday, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin warned that passage of the landmark health care reform bill in the senate still faces obstacles. “There are so many issues. I think we have the 60 votes we need today to bring the vote to the floor. I don’t believe we have the 60 votes to pass it,” Durbin said. Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman has indicated that he would join a filibuster of the bill, although there is some doubt as to the veracity of that claim. Nevertheless, it's expected that supporters of reform will try to line up 60 votes to pass the bill.

Senate Rule 22 has been used for years now to effectively limit the ability of the majority to bring a bill to the floor for a vote without actually taking any action. That's because the rule allows a senator to threaten a filibuster without actually holding one - a de facto veto power held by the minority as a by-product of modern Senate rules. Under this threat, if a bill's supporters don't have the numbers to break a filibuster, they back down and, subsequently, the bill - at least in its current form - dies. But Rule 22 also allows the senate leadership to call an honest-to-god filibuster. In other words, Durbin and Harry Reid could in this case call the opposition's bluff and force the minority to actually engage in the act of perpetual debate.

While they don't have enough votes to break the filibuster (but presumably have the majority needed to pass the legislation) doing so forces the issue. If comprehensive health care reform is so dangerous to the future of the republic in the minds of its opponents, then go ahead, Sen. Durbin. Make them put on a pot of coffee and start talking. While the nation watches, present your case and force the debate. You can change the minds of enough voters who'll then make the call to some key hold-out senators and, in turn, sway those votes, breaking the filibuster and forcing the vote, just as it happened with the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

It's not pretty, and it's not fun, but landmark legislation hasn't come without a price.