This graph should tell you everything you need to know about why progressives -- and now Democrats -- are so interested in reforming Senate rules.
But there's a flipside to the new push. It's not that it's a bad idea. It's that Democrats are being too ginger about the whole thing. First some hindsight: The right time to end the 60 vote "requirement" would have been in January 2009, when it was clear to anybody who'd been paying attention to Congress in 2007 and 2008 that the filibuster was going to really kneecap President Obama.
Doing it in 2011 would be fine, but, with Republicans taking over the House, sort of moot.
But that's not what Dems are talking about doing. They're talking about other sensible, but much more modest, rule changes. Forcing filibusterers to hold the floor, etc. As a result, in the near term, they'll realize very few benefits, and at the same time set a very recent precedent for changing the rules again in 2013, 15, or 17.
Because Republicans are much more serious than Democrats about using the tools of government to advance their ideological goals, I've long thought that after normalizing the 60-vote "requirement" over the last four years, they'd scrap it as soon as they regained the Senate and White House. Making modest reforms now gives them cover.
That's not a bad thing -- this shouldn't be principally a partisan issue, and at some point the rules are going to have to change more than just at the margin. It would just be to their immediate advantage to do as much as possible while they still run things. But there aren't 51 of them willing to do much more than tweak around the edges.