Now that the Democrats have held the Senate, they need to get their own house in order, and that means filibuster reform. This time is now: the Senate can change its rules by simple majority at the beginning of a Congressional session, i.e. this coming January.
I’m assuming that Bennet wins in Colorado, as the Denver Post has already called it, and that Murray wins in Washington, since most the outstanding ballots are in Democratic King County (which includes Seattle). That leaves the Dems with 53, including Holy Joe. (Whoever wins in Alaska — either completely crazy Joe Miller or basically crazy Lisa Murkowski — will caucus with the Reps).
Is this majority enough to transform the filibuster? No. But it could be able to do one big thing, and maybe another.
First, end the filibuster for executive branch appointments. It is simply unconscionable for the minority to prevent the President from filling his or her administration — regardless of which party is in power. You don’t like Obama’s Czars? Fine. Give him up-or-down votes. This really is a good government thing: the government has to run, and it has to be staffed. No danger here of locking in political appointees past their time.
Will these 53 Dems do it? I hope so. You can always count on them to cave, and people like Mary Landrieu have tried to use these holds over appointees in order to extract concessions. But this is so basic that it is really a requirement.
Second, make them actually filibuster. Many — including myself — were initially furious with Harry Reid for not making the Republicans actually filibuster, but there was a reason he didn’t: he couldn’t. Under current rules, silent filibusters rule: all the minority needs is one Senator in the chamber to “note the absence of a quorum” to bring up a quorum call, and prevent cloture.
Now, most Senators might reject general abolition because they don’t want to give up that weapon if it’s really important. Fair enough, I suppose — if it’s really important. Put another way, making them actually filibuster could force them to disclose what some economists call their “reservation price” for something. Right now, filibustering is costless. It shouldn’t be.
The question is whether the Democratic caucus actually cares about helping their country (and their party), or whether they are more interested in their personal perks. Heretofore, it has been the latter. But they need to know that if they maintain the current system, they will lose the majority in 2012 — the 2012 Democratic Senate map is pretty ugly (defending Tester, Webb, MacCaskill, Cantwell, Stabenow, both Nelsons, and steaming pile of Kent Conrad). They have to show that they can govern their own institution.