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Grand Old Partisans

A year later, Crist is headed to an inevitable defeat in the Republican primary for the Senate seat vacated by Mel Martinez (R), doomed to lose to a candidate who has, in large part, based his campaign in opposition to Crist’s support for Obama’s stimulus legislation. The message is resonating with Republicans across the nation — collaborate with the enemy, and you will be treated as a traitor.

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Bipartisanship, thus, is dead. Republicans obviously have little interest in working with the administration or congressional Democrats to advance legislation. Instead, they seek to delay, dilute and destroy.

Of course, this is actually the rational thing to do. Despite the fervent wishes of the bipartisanship fetishists in D.C., like David Broder, the fact is that the minority party has little political incentive to help the majority. The key to regaining the majority is by convincing voters that the current majority is incompetent and incapable of delivering results. So why should Republicans assist Democrats in notching up accomplishments?

Republican obstructionism is aided by Senate rules allowing a small minority the ability to stymie the majority. Democrats may have a dominant 3-to-2 ratio in the Senate, but that’s not enough to deliver on their agenda. Between obstructionist Republicans and a handful of corporate-bought small-state Democrats, the entire Democratic legislative program can be held hostage by filibuster. The large Democratic majority looks ineffective, and those minority obstructionists are able to score cheap political points at the expense of the nation’s well-being.

The filibuster rule has become so ingrained that actual filibusters are no longer even necessary. Just the threat is enough to derail legislation. That’s great for Republicans — but bad for America.

The use of cloture voting in the U.S. Senate has increased steadily over the past 50 years, climbing exponentially over the decades. Before 1970, not a single session of Congress had more than 10 cloture votes to end a filibuster. By the end of 2006, the record was 58. Then Democrats took control of the Senate in 2007, and we saw 112 in the last session alone. Republicans have shown little interest in slowing down that unprecedented level of obstructionism in the current session.

In 1975, the Senate reduced the filibuster threshold from 67 votes to 60, so there’s nothing preventing the Senate from taking another look at the practice. I supported attempts by GOP senators in 2005 to eliminate the filibuster with their “nuclear option,” an effort that was unfortunately blocked, for the most part, by small-state senators who often hold the legislative process hostage to extract concessions. Look no further than the current situation in which supposed “fiscal conservative” senators like Nebraska’s Ben Nelson and Louisiana’s Mary Landrieu funneled hundreds of millions in federal Medicaid pork to their states in exchange for their votes. Unsurprisingly, both Nelson and Landrieu were members of the “Gang of 14” who blocked the GOP’s effort to eliminate the filibuster.

If we’re going to hold the majority accountable for its governance, it ought to have an honest shot at governing. The filibuster makes the majority’s failure inevitable, and that’s undemocratic and counterproductive to our nation’s best interests, making our nation ungovernable.

It’s time to reduce the filibuster to a more manageable number — say, 55 votes — or eliminate it entirely.

Moulitsas is founder and publisher of Daily Kos