Via Ezra comes a pretty decent explanation of why 60 votes are needed in the Senate to pass the stimulus bill. In essence, due to Pay-as-you-go rules, a 3/5 majority is required to consider a bill to take on more debt… at least, I think that’s what it says…
This, obviously, renders the “why don’t the Democrats make the Republicans actually filibuster” question entirely moot.
It doesn’t, however, seem to mean there aren’t other, equivalent measures that could be taken.
It seems to me that Majority Leader Reid could have the Senate waive the rule (via 3/5 majority) because, until recently, even Republicans were acknowledging that something needed to be done, and that something was going to require an increase in debt.
If the Republicans stand against that, it would make it very clear that they aren’t interested in borrowing money to revitalize the economy. It would change the debate from nitpicking points of a large spending bill to one about the value of stimulus (and associated debt).
It seems likely that 2-3 Republicans would see fit to vote in agreement of borrowing money for a stimulus bill. After that’s done, the Republicans could be forced to actually filibuster bill. At the same time, all the arguments about whether it’s appropriate to borrow money for such a purpose could be answered with a “we already voted on that matter: you lost” type of response… It would then up to Republicans to get in line with the borrowing, or filibuster.
So, this rule changes things slightly, but it still feels like the Democrats are being much too timid about forcing Republicans into politically untenable positions.