With 35 million people uninsured, and Big Insurance on the verge of receiving hundreds of billions of dollars in subsidies through healthcare reform, the idea that a Blanche Lincoln, Joe Lieberman, Ben Nelson or Mary Landrieu could sabotage a public option should be a wakeup call to all of us as to the dysfunctionality of our Senate.

Of course, the reason conservative members of the Democratic Caucus are able to wield such power is the anti-democratic, not constitutionally-mandated filibuster, which requires a super-majority of 60 Senators to pass legislation.

That’s why so many pro-democracy folks are urging Majority Leader Harry Reid to use the procedural process of "reconciliation" to pass a public option if they can’t muster  60 votes. Reconciliation allows for a simple majority of 51 Senators to approve certain budgetary matters.

The problem is that it’s not clear whether reconciliation would work. A senior staffer for a key progressive Senator tells me that even if Reid wants to go that route "the process would require that both the Senate HELP and Finance Committees go back and redo their legislation. Ditto for the House." Once that was accomplished, reconciliation would still be "enormously complicated and depends on the Parliamentarian ruling that a proposal falls within specified budgetary contours."

Which brings us full circle to why we need to reform the anti-democratic filibuster, as Congressman Alan Grayson and others are calling for. Last week I moderated a conversation with Rhode Island Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse during which he spoke of a growing interest among his colleagues on the Judiciary Committee, and in the Democratic Caucus, about limiting the abuse of the filibuster. (I confess that I myself dream about abolishing it–I go to sleep and wake imagining a world rid of it!) The filibuster was established under Senate rules that have been repeatedly altered over the years, and it could be altered once again by just 51 Senate Democrats and Vice President Biden as the presiding officer–through the so-called "nuclear option".

As The Nation‘s Washington, DC Editor Christopher Hayes recently wrote, "The filibuster has become a cancer growing inside the world’s greatest deliberative body. What was once a rarely invoked procedural mechanism has metastasized and turned into a de facto supermajority requirement for any legislation. In the 103rd Congress (1993-94) there were forty-six votes on ‘cloture,’ the motion to override a filibuster and allow something to be considered on the floor. In the last Congress, the 110th, the first one in which Republicans were in the minority, there were a record 112."

There are some who fear that such a rule change would come back to haunt us–what would have happened if President Bush and a Republican Congress had pursued a similar tactic? Writer and longtime Nation contributor Thomas Geoghegan questions that fear: "Let’s deal with the canard that the filibuster ‘saved’ us from Bush. What’s the evidence? Judicial nominations: that’s the answer [progressives] give. Go ahead, name someone we blocked. Roberts? Alito? Of course there’s Bork, whom we blocked in the 1980s. But we didn’t block him with a filibuster… On the other hand, Republicans and conservative Democrats use their filibusters on labor, health, the stimulus, everything."

We have to win the fight for health care reform with as robust a public option as we can by deploying our Democratic majority. Afterwards, we need to put an end to the filibuster follies once and for all.