January 25, 2013

Now that the smoke has cleared from the wreckage of yesterday’s filibuster reform debacle, what’s next for those who want to fix our broken Senate? There is no denying that yesterday’s outcome was a terrible disappoint for those who still hold out hope for functional government. At the same time, there are some silver linings.

There is now an infrastructure of outside groups and activists that has shown the ability to mobilize at least some public concern about an extremely arcane problem, dramatizing the need for better governance and the dangerous consequences of having a Senate that has functionally ceased to be a democratic body. What’s more, we’ve now seen that the ongoing influx of energetic and liberal reform-minded Senators has proven able to force the old lions to embrace some reform and to pay lip service to the need to change the way the Senate operates. If reformers maintain that outside infrastructure, and elect more energetic Dems to the Senate, that could boost the possibility of more reform later.

In an interview with me this morning, one of the leading proponents of filibuster change — Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico — reflected on what reformers had accomplished and on what’s next, and vowed to revisit reform “every two years” if necessary.

“When I started this three years ago, it was pretty lonely,” Udall told me. “But there are millions of Americans who now want to see a changed Senate. They understand it’s broken. They understand we have to change the way we do business. The Senate is now a graveyard for good ideas, and we need to change that.”

Udall expressed hope that the modest changes that will be adopted — and the informal agreement between the parties to behave better — would begin to change matters. But he said the outside reform infrastructure should remain vigilant and vowed to push for more action later if necessary.

“The coalition will be monitoring this very carefully to see if we’re going to be stuck in a super majority situation,” Udall said. “It’s something we should revisit every two years.” He added: “If we’re still stuck in gridlock and the rules are being utilized to act only upon super majorities, then we’re going to have to take another look.”

As long as the old guard remains committed to a fundamentally undemocratic Senate, and refuses to extract any kind of price for the destructive practices we’ve seen in the last few years, reform will be difficult to achieve. But reformers did succeed in creating precedent — and an outside infrastructure — for more reform later. That’s not a small accomplishment. As David Atkins puts it: “We’re only a few retirements and progressive primaries away from a Democratic Senate majority progressive enough to make the necessary changes.” Those who want a functional Senate have no alternative but to keep pushing.

*White House to target red state Dems in gun push: The Post has a good overview of the White House’s developing plans for a public campaign to sell Obama’s gun proposals. Key nugget:

Part of the goal is to demonstrate support for gun-control measures in states such as West Virginia, North Dakota or Louisiana, where Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin III, Heidi Heitkamp and Mary Landrieu, respectively, face strong pressure to side with pro-gun groups.

Polls show overwhelming support for universal background checks, even among NRA households. But the roar of media commentary insisting that red state Dems face instant political self-immolation if they go anywhere near any gun reform proposals — along with pressure from the NRA — could keep them in skittish mode. So the gun reform side will have to step up. We now have three red or purple state Dems who support background checks.

* Still more movement on universal background checks: Yesterday I noted that Senator Joe Manchin, an NRA darling and red state Dem, had come out for universal background checks. Now it has emerged that he is collaborating with a GOP Senator, Mark Kirk, on legislation to get this done.

Manchin yesterday said he was working with Republican and Dem Senators (in the plural) on this, so the question now is whether a bipartisan “gang” is coalescing around the eminently sensible goal of improving the background check system, which would be more real movement.

* Still more movement on gay marriage: The Rhode Island House of Representatives easily passes legislation to allow gay and lesbians to marry. The measure faces an uncertain fate in the State Senate. But if it passes, it will be a big deal: It would make gay marriage legal in 10 states plus D.C. Since Rhode Island is the last state in New England where gays can’t marry, victory here would make New England a uniformly gay-marriage-friendly bloc.

* Jeb Bush warns conservatives on immigration reform: Jeb Bush’s op ed in the Wall Street Journal calling for immigration reform warns conservatives not to oppose “comprehensive” immigration reform and warns them not to reflexively label any real reform “amnesty.” It’s  the latest sign that the GOP’s pragmatic wing is headed for a war with the base over an issue that could have an enormous impact on the party’s long term viability.

* The deficit hysterics are loosing their grip: Very good point from Paul Krugman: In his Inaugural Address, Obama barely mentioned the deficit, underscoring that the deficit scolds are loosing their grip on the nation’s discourse as the deficit begins to come down. Given that many of the challenges Obama did focus on are leading liberal priorities, this marks yet another way in which the speech signaled a shift in a new and more progressive direction — towards solving real problems.

* Newsflash: Republicans don’t really care about deficits: Kevin Drum keeps pointing out that the GOP obsession with deficits is really about downsizing government, and rightly fingers media willingness to play along with the GOP’s deficit-concern charade as a problem afflicting our discourse.

* Obama faces an uphill battle in expanding opportunity: A smart piece by Ron Brownstein on how Obama’s vow to push for more social equality has far more wind at its back than his push for more economic opportunity does. As Brownstein details, Obama will very likely be remembered for knocking down many cultural barriers, which will stand as a major achievement, but his legacy is anything but assured when it comes to the looming project of combating inequality.

* And the 2012 campaign flashback of the day: Weird: Romney adviser Stuart Stevens asks the Post’s Glenn Kessler to take another look at that highly dishonest Romney ad about Chrysler supposedly “moving” jobs to China. Kessler reaffirms his original judgment: Four Pinnochios.

Stevens’ request was prompted by news that Chrysler will begin building Jeep models in China for that country’s market. But we always knew that could happen. The problem was the idea that jobs were getting shipped there. Why anyone from Romneyworld would want to revive this ignominious episode — one designed to make workers fear for their livelihoods — is incomprehensible.

What else?

Greg Sargent writes The Plum Line blog, a reported opinion blog with a liberal slant -- what you might call “opinionated reporting” from the left.