If meaningful filibuster reform is not enacted on Tuesday, when the Senate officially goes into its first 113th Congress session, President Obama will be entirely frustrated (again) from doing anything during his second term, including naming anyone to fill vacancies on the Supreme Court.
The chief reason Mitch McConnell is so upset by filibuster reform is that if Senate rules stay essentially the same after January 22 Republicans will have the same free hand they’ve exercised so brutally over the last four years to block the only pre-assured achievement of President Obama’s second term, that of naming sensible jurists to the Supreme Court to curb the excesses of its über-conservatives, particularly those without an operating human brain (Clarence Thomas, anyone?) There will be at least one vacancy over the next four years, and perhaps more, and as the rules of the Senate stand now there is no reason to prevent any single kook senator (Rand Paul, anyone?) from blocking the Senate from confirming any nomination Obama might make to fill the seat(s). There is nothing in the Constitution that says the Supreme Court can’t or won’t operate with fewer than nine members, in fact it has done so many times. And as Senate rules stand now any single senator can completely block (and secretly, too) any item of Senate business from ever going forward.
The arguments against reform can seem plausible—if real reform is enacted, then it can be used against the Democrats if they ever find themselves in the minority again. But the filibuster isn’t being taken away; it is simply being retailored to the shape it held until 1975, namely a blocking mechanism useful to a Senate minority that involves speaking continuously on the floor. And as to the “secret holds” that reform would do away with, only Republicans have ever used these to scurrilous effect. Anyway the “secret hold” is also a creature of 1975, and if both the Senate and the nation survived perfectly happily under a real filibuster and a lack of “secret holds” for 200 years there’s no reason to suppose it can’t again.
Of course the GOP, as currently constituted, will continue to act in the most despicable, selfish, unpatriotic, and bowing-and-scraping-to-the-one-percent fashion no matter what the rules of the Senate are. Might as well make them useful, at least for the present. Just remember that the future of the Supreme Court and the rights of human beings as opposed to corporations depends on immediate real reform of the filibuster. Right now the GOP is fawning and groveling before the leaders of the Senate, making the same promises of bonhomie and bipartisanship they did four years ago. I sincerely hope Harry Reid, and everyone else at risk of falling for their hogwash, will wake up before it is too late. Don’t fall into the same pit again, folks. The same snake is making the same promises, that everyone under the sun knows they won’t keep. This time there is too much at stake.