How to End the Filibuster and Drive the Republicans Crazy

Over at the Washington Post, Ezra Klein posts a fantastic piece on how the filibuster could be easily ended with 51 votes.

Conventional wisdom suggests 67 votes are necessary (first a vote of 60 to break the filibuster, then a vote of 67 to change the Senate rules), yet Klein observes this conventional wisdom may be misguided.

Citing historical support from left (Robert Byrd) and right (Richard Nixon), Klein suggests that the "so-called" constitutional option would allow a new Senate to set its own rules and eliminate the filibuster.

The catch is that even enthusiasts of the idea believe that such a change can only be made at the beginning of a new Congress.

Yet this fact, far from being a deal breaker, is great news for Democrats.

First, read Ezra's piece. I'll wait here.

Done? Great.

Since the filibuster cannot be eliminated until a new Congress is sworn in in January, Democrats are presented with a tremendous political opportunity.

Simply pledge en masse to support elimination of the filibuster regardless of which party controls the Senate when the new Congress is sworn in.

This idea places Senate Democrats in an unfamiliar position, since it requires them to be both brave and cynical, whereas they are usually most comfortable being cowardly and idealistic.

Pledging to eliminate the filibuster is a little brave because the possibility exists that the Republicans could take control in January and the Democrats would therefore be surrendering the ability to stop them on principle.

But it is also cynical because the chances of the Republicans taking control of the Senate is pretty minimal.

So regardless of whether Republicans argue on the basis of principle: that it is important to be able to gum up the works and prevent change or because of political calculation: they want to be able to continue to oppose the Democrats' agenda, it undercuts their argument that Democrats have failed to deliver on their change mandate.

The more Republicans protest, the clearer it would become that the blame for Democratic failure to enact more of their agenda rests in large part on the shoulders of the Republicans.

Forcing the Republicans to argue against the filibuster also forces them to admit they will not be able to retake the Senate, depressing their voter enthusiasm.

Democrats have been looking for a way to re-frame the media narrative of this election. Here it is.

By pledging to eliminate the filibuster regardless of which party controls the Senate, Democrats will make a powerful statement about their commitment to principle regardless of political fortune.

And for once, principle will actually serve Democratic political fortunes.