The Senate voted down President Bush's proposal to make the estate tax repeal permanent. The vote was 54-44 in favor of repeal. Of course, the vote isn't very important right now, since it wouldn't have any effect until 2011, but the Republican plan is to lock in the repeal now, in case the Democrats are back in power then. And failing that, to be able to use this as a campaign weapon.
But what I want to know is, when did this sort of "virtual filibuster" come into existence? A bill, of course, needs 50 votes to pass, which this one had; it needed 60 votes only because that's the total needed to end a filibuster. But what happened to the Good Old Days, when a Senator who wanted to block a particular bill had to actually stand up on the Senate floor and read from a phone book for hours, until 60 Senators voted for cloture or until supporters of the bill gave up? Now, they don't even bother going through the motions; if the proponents can't get the 60 votes, they simply stop trying. What happened to accountability, where the public could see who was being obstructionist?
Can you imagine Mr. Smith Goes To Washington being shot today? Jimmy Stewart would just say, "Oh yeah? Where's your 60 percent?" and sit down. It might not have been quite as dramatic.