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Editorial: Back from the ledge

Both sides of the aisle in the U.S. Senate congratulated each other on averting what they saw as a procedural catastrophe.

A deal was reached that will allow a decision on some of President Obama’s nominees while two controversial nominees for the National Labor Relations Board, whom the president put on board during a Senate recess, will be dropped. Meanwhile the Senate’s rules on filibusters and the super majority necessary to move a nominee or bill along remain in place. Indeed, was brought this agreement was the threat of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to change the rules for executive nominations so 51 votes, a simple majority, could get past a filibuster and thus leaving the minority party even more in the margins.

While it has been the Republican senators that have been using the filibuster and super-majority vote, many Democrats were uneasy with the potential for change as well. After all, there will be instances in the future where it is the Democrats and not the Republicans who will be in the minority when it comes to the Senate and they will want to have the same methods available to challenge and slow nominees or legislation.

The outcome here also allowed the two sides to claim victory.

We have now started a new era, I hope a new normal in the Senate where senators talk to each other rather than past each other,” Reid said Wednesday.

The American public would like to think that’s true. But there’s plenty not to like about the use of the 60-vote super-majority.

And if we’re looking for a guide here, one can go to one of the founding fathers, Alexander Hamilton. Writing in the Federalist Papers, Hamilton took up the question of the super-majority several times and took a dim view of such.

In the Federalist 75, he wrote, “... that all provisions which require more than the majority of any body to its resolutions, have a direct tendency to embarrass the operations of the government, and an indirect one to subject the sense of the majority to that of the minority.”

And here’s what Hamilton said in Federalist 22: “The public business must, in some way or other, go forward. If a pertinacious minority can control the opinion of a majority, respecting the best mode of conducting it, the majority, in order that something may be done, must conform to the views of the minority; and thus the sense of the smaller number will overrule that of the greater, and give a tone to the national proceedings. Hence, tedious delays; continual negotiation and intrigue; contemptible compromises of the public good.”

If a super-majority wasn’t a good idea back then, it isn’t one now, considering today’s hyper-partisan climate. Despite the latest deal, the Senate should work on a bipartisan plan to ease the overuse of filibusters.

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