Yesterday's Washington Post had a story headlined "Senate Lacks Votes to Pass Stimulus." I'm pretty sure, but not certain, that this was shorthand for "Senate Lacks Votes to End Filibuster Against Stimulus." The strongest clue comes in the sixth paragraph:
For now, the Senate bill remains a work in progress. "We're trying to find a way to reach 60" votes, Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), the Senate's chief vote counter, told reporters. "A number of Democrats have said they want to see changes to the bill before they can vote for it."
When I learned about the filibuster in high school, it was a last-resort parliamentary procedure to block laws that had majority support. There was political risk involved, since the party or individuals who used the procedure came off as obstructionists -- and often looked ridiculous, as they wasted time making nonsense speeches in order to stop the Senate from taking a roll call vote. (These days, senators can hold up legislation simply by declaring their willingness to filibuster.) And filibustering senators usually felt it necessary to make an argument as to why the action of a majority would not be legitimate -- most notoriously, when Southerners argued that civil rights legislation impinged on states' rights. (The film Mr. Smith Goes to Washington also makes a fairly persuasive case for using the filibuster when another senator is trying to frame you for graft.)
But the media coverage of the current debate over President Obama's stimulus legislation seems to take for granted that there will be a filibuster against it, and that opponents need not justify the raising of the hurdle from 50 percent to 60 percent of the Senate.
My guess is that political reporters don't want to seem naive or ill-informed by overlooking the possibility of a filibuster, so they treat it as a natural, commonplace procedure. But that can be something of a self-fulfilling prophecy.
UPDATE: Brendan Nyhan has a good post on how Obama's call for bipartisanship may have been taken too literally by the press and how he's now trying to get out of that box. It's significant that, beyond breaking a filibuster, 60 votes for the stimulus package would also mean that at least one Republican voted for it.