We've been rooting since the election for Senate Democrats to show some spine and reform the filibuster at the start of the coming session -- Sen. Jeff Merkley, as we reported then, has been developing a plan that makes so much sense it's almost certain never to make it through.
Moreover, as with the public option and the economic stimulus package, we haven't exactly been holding our collective breaths waiting for it to happen, given Democrats' extensive history of evolving spines made of orange Jell-O.
Now, however, it seems Republicans have so overplayed their hand in bullying Democrats around that they might actually force the Democrats to grow spines and do the job. Ezra Klein has the details:
Mitch McConnell's threat to filibuster literally everything Democrats want to do until Democrats and Republicans agree to a compromise on the Bush tax cuts can be read as a power play, but it can also be read as a dare: At this point, Republicans are sure that they can abuse the rules as much as they'd like and Democrats won't dare do a thing about it. McConnell's blanket filibuster now joins Richard Shelby's blanket hold as the two most egregious acts of procedural brinkmanship in a Congress that's been chock-full of rules-based obstruction.
If there's a wild card here, it's Sen. Jeff Merkley and the other Democrats who've been agitating for rules reform for well over a year now. Today, Merkley released his proposal (pdf), and it's a detailed, thoughtful and supportable package of reforms -- even for those who believe in the filibuster.
You can read the whole memo here (application/pdf - 101.98 KB). As we noted before, the beauty of the Merkley plan is that it preserves the filibuster but makes it so it actually in practice is what it was intended to be: a last resort of a determined minority willing to stake its members' precious time and resources to make it happen, instead of an easy way to halt any kind of deliberation with a simple check-off, as is the case now. As Ezra notes:
This is filibuster reform that even the filibuster's supporters can love: It focuses the practice on the tradition of debate and discussion that Senate traditionalists consider to be the institution's indispensable trait. Even so, a few days ago, I would've told you it didn't have a chance, as there'd be no energy to look at the rules again. But McConnell's announcement of a blanket filibuster that's meant to stop the Senate from debating legislation rather than ensure that all sides have time to be heard may be just the push the traditionalists needed.
Merkley's office believes such a change to the rules could be accomplished with a simple majority vote in the Senate, and Merkley will be pushing colleagues to join his effort to make such a vote happen at the outset of the new session in January.
Sen. Merkley was on Rachel Maddow's show the other night to explain. Heather has the transcript here.