Nobody in the media wants to say it—because we have too much fun calling the play-by-play—but the presidential race is over. After more than a year of watching Mitt Romney, very few undecided voters remain. Despite the significant dissatisfaction with where we are and where we are heading, Romney simply cannot sell the public that he is the guy to move us forward. His missteps and awkward moments are too many to catalog here, but suffice to say that an empty vessel cannot be elected president of the United States.
It is equally certain that the Democrats will not retake the House. Despite massive public dissatisfaction with Congress and the failure of the Republican Party to articulate a coherent program, there are simply not enough districts in play to argue that the House could flip back. Credit gerrymandering and the latent power of incumbency for the probability that John Boehner returns as speaker.
So the Senate is the real game in town. The odds are that the Democrats retain control, since Massachusetts, Missouri, and Virginia are now pretty strongly trending toward Elizabeth Warren, Claire McCaskill, and Tim Kaine, respectively, and Bill Nelson is looking comfortable in Florida. It’s hard to envision the Republicans winning the magic four pickups they need.
In order for President Obama to govern next year, he will need his Democratic Senate to be able to act. Boehner will need to feel cornered. The only way to get him to the negotiating table will be the fear that he otherwise will be seen as the sole obstructionist holding the nation back. As long as Boehner can hide behind an inactive Senate, he will be spared real pressure.
This then raises once again the real impediment to Senate action: the filibuster rule. In January 2011, even though they controlled the Senate, Democrats failed to take advantage of the brief window that exists at the beginning of every new congressional term to change the rules by mere majority vote. The rest is, as they say, history. Gridlock, failed nominations, and frustration. The chance to act in that two-week window must not be allowed to slip again.
Why raise this right now? Even though the election is 47 days away, it is not too soon to think about actually governing. Sooner rather than later we need to alert the public that absent filibuster reform we will have the same gridlock next year. Getting leading Democrats to pledge right now to act in January is critical. Otherwise, institutional pressures may prevail, as they did last time, and party elders will take the easy way out and preserve the status quo.