Once the super committee failed the House and Senate were boxed in tight. Usually, legislation has to be passed for tax increases and cuts to kick in. But this deal was set up differently, taxes go up and cuts kick in automatically unless ledge is passed. Those tax increases affect half the population, including the very wealthy, and the cuts affect sacred cows, including the DoD. Which means the Senate in particular is hoisted by their own filibuster petard:
(SFChronicle) — Democrats proposed a 3.25 percent tax on income over $1 million, which would raise sufficient cash to increase the tax cut to 3.1 percent and expand it to cover employers, as Obama has proposed. But that idea failed to muster the 60 votes needed to overcome a GOP filibuster threat, with 51 senators supporting it and 49 opposed.
Most people have heard of the filibuster, but for those who aren’t sure what that’s all about, it essentially means, under current Senate rules, that a bill needs 60 out of 100 votes instead of a simple majority to pass.
You might wonder how a process that blatantly undemocratic ever came to be. That’s a long story, the short version is it evolved from a loophole in the Senate rules that’s been around for a long time. When the fictional Mr. Smith went to Washington in 1939 he discovered that very real loophole: as long as he was recognized to speak and kept talking there was no procedural mechanism to shut him up, Smith had the floor, and no other Senate business could proceed until he voluntarily stopped, or passed out. That part of the loophole was ended in the 1970s, and it became possible, under the two-track system, for the Senate to consider and vote on other bills during a filibuster, just not the one being filibustered. These days it’s no longer required to even hold the floor by talking endlessly, just an implied filibuster sidelines the bill unless it can get 60 votes.
You might be thinking, why in the hell would the Senate even want something like a filibuster at all? It keeps bills from even being voted on, it stifles progress on all sorts of important matters, it frustrates the majority party and by proxy the voters that put them in power. There are various reasons, but one of the more unseemly ones is the filibuster gives individual and small groups of Senators enormous leverage they wouldn’t otherwise have, from which they can extract all manner of backroom deals, national press attention, and
legal bribes campaign donations. It magnifies their power and thus the power of the Senate — at the expense of everyone else.
But thanks to the complicated way this super committee was set up and the rules everyone agreed to when that was done, the Senate is screwed in large part because of the filibuster. Either side can use it, if the Senate doesn’t pass a bill that clears the House and the Oval Office, the entire middle class gets a hefty tax increase, and that has them boxed in as it could end many cushy careers in the next election. Of course for us regular folks it’s quite satisfying to watch the Senate being forced to behave like an actual, democratic, majority-rules legislative body for once.