Democratic Supermajority No Guarantee for Gay Progress

The 2008 election may already be one for the record books, but triumphant Democrats are still vying for an elusive political prize -- the 60-seat supermajority required to overcome Republican filibuster attempts and advance their legislative agenda swiftly beginning in January. But what are the odds of actually getting 60 seats -- and will it really push gay rights to the front of the line? 

BY Julie Bolcer

November 21 2008 12:00 AM ET

The 2008 election
may already be one for the record books, but triumphant
Democrats are still vying for an elusive political prize --
the 60-seat supermajority required to overcome
Republican filibuster attempts and advance their
legislative agenda swiftly beginning in January. The U.S.
Senate’s fate, of course, depends on the outcome of
two remaining undecided races: Georgia and Minnesota.

“The
60-vote, filibuster-proof majority is a goal of Democrats to
be successful in the legislative agenda on a whole
host of items,” says Sean Cain, assistant
professor of government at American University in
Washington, D.C.

Although rarely
used before the 1960s, the filibuster has since become an
increasingly common obstructive tactic, whereby opponents of
a Senate proposal extend debate indefinitely to
prevent a vote from happening. Under Senate rules,
however, 60 senators can end filibusters and push
bills to a vote.

“In the
past few years, the filibuster has become a defining tool of
debate for controversial issues,” explains Cain.

Last possessed by
Democrats in 1977 under President Jimmy Carter, a
filibuster-proof majority was considered a tantalizing but
long-shot possibility for Democrats in the 2008
election.

This trend toward
filibustering on contentious items invites the question
of how obtaining the 60-seat milestone might affect gay
rights legislation in the Senate. Despite the hype and
hope, it appears that a potential Democratic
supermajority would have negligible direct impact for
LGBT issues in comparison to other, stronger factors like
lobbying and presidential leadership.

“I think
for these issues,” says Cain, “the impact of
the filibuster-proof majority is overstated.”

Cain bases his
assessment on the reluctant support for gay rights issues
from right-leaning Democrats, who are increasingly essential
to Democratic supremacy.

“Just
having a 60-vote supermajority won’t be enough for
the Democrats. They have to be able to hold them
together. That’s easier said than done.”

Tags: Politics

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