Brian Schweitzer and Filibuster Reform

I haven’t seen it yet, but I’d bet that by sundown today someone will have written a column arguing that Brian Schweitzer’s decision against running for the Senate ought to give Harry Reid pause in pursuing filibuster reform. It’s in the nature of national political chatter to overreact to something like Schweitzer’s decision–someone refusing the opportunity to spend 16 months of living hell in hopes of a “promotion” to the U.S. Senate still seems a bizarre and irrational act in Beltway circles, doncha know. And Reid’s decision on filibuster reform is assumed to be a very short-term proposition based on whether or not he’s sure he’ll be majority leader the day after tomorrow.

In reality, the news from Montana was good for Republicans, but hardly some sort of ’14 clincher. TNR’s Nate Cohn looks at the new landscape carefully today, and basically raises the probability of a Republican Senate takeover next year from remote to unlikely but possible. A lot depends on how you look at Senators like Landrieu and Hagan and Begich, whose track records contradict the partisan dynamics of the states they represent to a greater extent than is typical in these straight-ticket-voting days.

Even if Republicans get all the breaks and regain Senate control, they won’t, of course, control the White House for the ensuing two years. And in 2016, they will face the more daunting proposition of a presidential-year electorate that’s a lot younger and darker than the midterm electorate, and a very difficult Senate landscape. No matter what happens in Montana, or indeed anywhere in 2014, the much-feared GOP “trifecta” of control of both congressional chambers and the White House will still be a long way off and far less than an even bet.

But you know what? Even if I knew for a fact that Republicans would regain the Senate in 2014 and keep it in 2016 while taking back the White House, I’d still be urging Harry Reid to “go nuclear.” For one thing, the odds are very high that a Republican “trifecta” government, acutely aware of the demographic tide against which they are swimming, would cast aside the filibuster like a cardboard barricade if it got in its way (or just liberally utilize loopholes like the budget reconciliation procedure they used in 2001 to enact Bush’s tax cuts, and were planning to use to enact the Ryan Budget this year had things turned out right last November). And for another: at some point gridlock just becomes poison for progressive government and politics. The only thing rivaling a period of conservative “rule” as a threat to the Republic is a period in which neither party can prevail and an incoherent combination of policies misgovern the land. This is how we’ve wound up with a federal government trying hard to undermine a national economic recovery; a massive health reform law that cannot be fully implemented; and a voting public that blames the “other party” for everything that goes wrong, since no one is fully in charge. If you remember, moreover, that the kind of filibustering habit the “nuclear option” is intended to curb is a historical anomaly never intended by the Founders, the case for foreswearing reform become almost completely unintelligible. Reid should cover his ears and go “la-la-la” and if necessary keep a toe on the nuclear “button.”

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.