Democrats are in shock after Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh announced last Monday that he would not seek re-election for a third term in office. The centrist Democrat is not retiring because of a lack of popularity. In fact, he had won his prior two elections with over 60 percent of the vote and was poised to win a third term this November.
Bayh, who Pres. Barack Obama was considering to be his running mate for Vice President in 2008 before he chose Sen. Joe Biden, attributes his retirement to the increasing partisanship that he claims is preventing the Senate from passing even basic legislation.
Dean Birch, a political science professor at John Carroll University, said, “I think Evan Bayh just got fed up with what he believes is a ‘do nothing’ Congress. However, it’s not just Bayh. Senators like Chris Dodd and others have decided not to run for re-election as well.”
According to The New York Times, Bayh said, “I have had a growing conviction that Congress is not operating as it should. There is too much partisanship and not enough progress — too much narrow ideology and not enough practical problem solving. Even at a time of enormous challenge, the people’s business is not being done.”
He maintains that the filibuster is one of the main factors for the current partisan freeze in the Senate. According to MSNBC, “The minority has rights, that’s important, but the public has a right to see its business done, and not routinely allow a small minority to keep us from addressing the great issues that face this country. I think the filibuster absolutely needs to be changed,” said Bayh.
Bayh claims that, in today’s Senate, 60 votes, or a supermajority, are necessary to pass anything and the filibuster is a tactic being abused by the minority. According to the U.S. Senate Web site, the filibuster became popular in 1850 as a mechanism to prevent a vote on unwanted legislation. To do this, senators in the minority take advantage of a rule that permits unlimited debate on an issue.
In the 1960s, the filibuster was popular among Southern Senators to block civil rights legislation. In 1964, there was a 57-day filibuster against the Civil Rights Act.
Originally to stop a filibuster, the Senate needed 67 votes. This is called cloture. In 1975, the Senate lowered the number to 60 votes. Now, according to NPR, Sen. Evan Bayh believes that number should be lowered again to 55.
“The filibuster is a useful procedure that is meant to require the Senate to slow down and truly examine important legislation. However, a reform, like lowering the votes to 55, might not be a bad idea,” said Birch.