The Progressive Change Campaign Committee has a new poll showing that 64 percent of voters oppose the filibuster. While it strikes me as one of those polls that miraculously finds what the client wants it to find, it does seem clear that the beginning of the 112th Congress in January would be a great time for Vice President Joe Biden to head down to the Capitol for the inaugural session and rule filibusters unconstitutional, with the Democratic caucus voting to uphold the ruling. You can imagine the statement from the White House:
With the midterm elections registering Americans' disappointment with the government and Washington's business-as-usual, the Obama administration asked senators from both parties today to support Vice President Biden, in his role as president of the Senate, in removing archaic congressional rules that promote corruption and obstruction. The administration supports the elimination of these out-dated rules to better work with our Republican colleagues in responding to the message of this election: Tired Washington politics is no substitute for action on the pressing issues facing our great nation.
There's any number of good reasons to do this. Eliminating the filibuster, or instituting some kind of semi-elimination compromise, is good policy generally, and nominally supported by the administration and a number of Democratic senators. This would be a fairly effective strategy to regain the party's initiative and display its unity. It will be harder for Republicans to paint this as a power grab, since they're the ones who gained in this election.
Of course, the advantage for Democrats is that they will be able to have more control of the one chamber where they possess a majority, making it easier to pass their own priorities -- rather than have the House pass a lot of bills and the Senate take no action, you could see a dynamic where the Senate and the House pass a lot of competing versions of bills, creating both more contrast between the parties and making the possibility of actual legislation more likely.
Republicans might recognize that advantage, but when they argue that Democrats are just setting themselves up to be more powerful, Dems should argue right back that this is merely a good-faith sign of their intent to work with the opposing party by removing a mechanism primarily used for obstruction. Incidentally, while conservatives happen to disagree with me, I do think the filibuster is just as bad for enacting their policy preferences as it is for enacting mine.
-- Tim Fernholz