This week, two of my favorite progressive U.S. Senators, Jeff Merkley (D. OR) and Sherrod Brown (D. OH) passed on running for the Democratic nominee for President. While the field is already crowded, I was hoping both men would enter to bring their ideas and platforms to the primary. But both men have legitimate reasons for passing on the race. For Brown, he would have to give up his Senate seat if he were to get the nominee or be a V.P. pick and Governor Mike DeWine (R. OH) would pick his replacement and it would give Republicans the seat. Merkley is in a safely blue seat and Oregon state law prohibits him from running for both his Senate seat and for the Presidency. But according to Slate, Merkley has figured out where he can have the best impact, fixing the U.S. Senate:
“I do believe,” he said, on the other hand, “that we will never again see a ticket of two white men.”
White men will always have a home in the United States Senate, of course. But to what end? When Merkley described the Senate as a legislative “graveyard,” it sounded like code for eliminating the 60-vote legislative filibuster so that Democrats could pass Medicare for all or a Green New Deal in 2021. But senators across the Democratic spectrum have been hesitant to go there. And, as Merkley told me, he’s not fully there yet, either.
“It’s about creating a conversation among my colleagues saying, we have to be able to act to be a competent legislative body in partnership with the House,” he told me. He said that there were “so many different ways to approach this.” Aside from using the existing resource of budget reconciliation, he said, senators could also look at a proposal he’s been pushing for years: a return of the “talking filibuster” as the minority’s only go-to tool for extending debate.
“You get rid of the [60-vote] supermajority [requirement] on everything except final passage,” he explained, “and then on final passage, if there’s ever a moment in the debate when the debate ends? You go to a simple majority vote.
“It makes it much more difficult and painful to do routine obstruction,” he continued. “The goal is to get back to a point where a supermajority hurdle is rare.” He also wants to clear more floor time for legislation, seeing as how Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell devotes most floor time now to confirming nominees. His idea would be to put consideration of nominations on a clock.
But, he cautioned, “I’m not advocating for one particular path to be there.” It’s a conversation!
Governor Jay Inslee (D. WA) is the only presidential candidate to call for getting rid of the filibuster and U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D. MA), another Presidential candidate, has said that she’s open to the idea of getting rid of the filibuster. Now, Merkley has not said that he’s there yet with completely eliminating the filibuster but he clearly realizes that changes need to be made. Democrats right now are aiming to get great recruits to win a Senate Majority but we’re not getting 60 votes this year. So we have to make changes in the upper chamber. I believe Merkley can be that guy to make it happen. In fact, fixing the Senate is becoming his big campaign slogan. Here’s an e-mail I received from his re-election campaign:
We need bold, progressive solutions to the crises created by the privileged and powerful, who have rigged our economy and our politics. It's not enough to just defeat Donald Trump.
Any progressive priority — from Medicare for All to a Green New Deal to expanding Social Security to strong voting protections — will die in the Senate unless we take back the Senate and fix it.
The special interests have made the Senate a supermajority deep freeze. Forty-one conservative Senators representing as few as 24% of Americans can effectively veto any progress.
To fix America, we must fix the Senate.Jeff