Here’s another reason to be cautiously optimistic about the way the political winds are blowing: With Dems seemingly on track to hang on to the Senate — and with Obama’s electoral edge perhaps holding — the prospects are brightening for an overhaul of the filibuster.
Senator Jeff Merkley, the co-author of a package of filibuster reforms, has secured commitments from nine leading Dem Senate candidates to throw themselves behind fixing the filibuster if they are elected.
Merkley is circulating an email raising money for the nine Senators, who include Elizabeth Warren, Tammy Baldwin, Martin Heinrich, Tim Kaine and Heidi Heitkamp. “These nine candidates running for the Senate right now have committed to helping me fix the broken Senate by reforming the filibuster,” the email says.
If Dems do hold the Senate, we could be looking at a more progressive Democratic caucus next year, thanks to this year’s crop of unexpectedly solid progressive candidates. This could result in more pressure on the Dem leadership to actually go through with reform.
Merkley is calling for reforms that, among other things, would force the filibustering party to play a much more public role in obstructing the majority — perhaps making it politically less appetizing. The Senate has already adopted one proposed reform, the elimination of the secret hold.
This spring, Harry Reid caused a stir when he said he’d finally seen the light on the need for real reform. Republicans are skeptical that Reid is serious about changing the filibuster, and there’s some grounds for that skepticism. However, it’s also possible that the unprecedented GOP obstructionism of the last four years may have persuaded Reid, as David Dayen put it recently, that the Senate has become a “super majority institution” that is “governed by a tyranny of the minority” and is “horrendously broken.”
Obviously Mitt Romney could still be elected president, and take along enough Republicans to give GOP control of the Senate. If Dems lose the White House and hold the Senate, their appetite for filibuster reform may well diminish. But if Dems hold both the White House and the Upper Chamber, reform may become a real possibility. It would be an ironic outcome if the very plot hatched by GOP leaders to deny Obama a second term — abusing the rules and rendering the institution dysfunctional to turn his presidency into a failure — is what finally created the political will among Dems to take steps towards ending such dysfunction and abuse for good.