Sept. 1, 2015 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Gun Debate Reveals Pitfalls of Filibuster Overhaul

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call
The Senate defeated several amendments that Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat, supported, including the background check agreement.

“In the Senate, anybody can object and require a 60-vote threshold, and that’s just the way the rules are, so we can moan and groan about it, but that’s the threshold we have to meet,” Cornyn said.

“You’ve got to take the good with the bad when it comes to democracy, and you know, the people of this country deserve to have the majority of citizens ... get their way,” Murphy said, when asked about the level of support for Cornyn’s proposal.

Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island advocates for changing the rules to cut back on the systemic 60-vote requirement, but he noted the risks.

“There’s always going to be a little good with the bad when you’re changing rules,” Whitehouse said in reference to Cornyn’s proposal. “I don’t know — if it would have gotten 51 if it had actually been destined to pass with 51 votes because people think sometimes differently when a bill’s not passing anyway.”

One look at the vote outcomes on the various gun amendments shows how difficult it could be to corral senators from disparate geographic areas. A Republican background check alternative proposed by several GOP senators, including Judiciary ranking member Charles E. Grassley of Iowa and freshman Ted Cruz of Texas, garnered a simple majority of support.

The House prevents such contradictory vote outcomes by regulating the flow of amendments through a Rules Committee that regulates floor activity at the behest of the speaker. The Senate currently has no such equal, though one might be needed — either that, or the majority leader in that theoretical Senate would be in the position of having to block some amendments from ever seeing a vote.

Some gun control supporters have gone beyond criticizing the routine use of 60-vote supermajorities in the Senate to raising questions about the Senate itself, perhaps realizing that changing the rules could create a whole different kind of distorted result. An item earlier this week in the New Republic raised the possibility that the kind of firearms law changes envisioned by Murphy, Connecticut Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal and others could never materialize in the modern Senate because of the clout of rural states.

That comes from the very organization of the Senate. Perhaps ironically, given that the most recent debate on firearms stems from a tragedy at a Connecticut elementary school, it was two statesmen from the Nutmeg State who brokered the compromise that led to the creation of a bicameral legislature in the first place.

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