For a few hours on Thursday, when the new Senate comes into session, Majority Leader Harry Reid will have a chance to help the Democrats re-take the House of Representatives in 2014, and hold the Senate.
He can do that by simply reforming – genuinely reforming – the filibuster. In doing so, he will not only put an end to years of rampant Republican obstructionism in the upper chamber, but also significantly slow down the billionaire-funded Tea Party.
Republicans in the Senate know what's at stake. Led by Senator John McCain, a group of Senators are proposing a watered-down version they're calling "filibuster reform," in hopes of derailing the real filibuster reform championed by Jeff Merkley, Tom Udall, and Elizabeth Warren.
The McCain deal wouldn't really reform the filibuster. It would do nothing about how many votes it takes to break the filibuster, and nothing about requiring filibustering lawmakers to actually talk on the floor of the Senate. It only gets rid of redundant filibusters, which is meaningless because it only takes one filibuster to kill legislation.
But knowing it will only take fifty votes for Democrats to change the filibuster rules on the first day of the new session – and scared to death by this prospect – McCain is offering up this fig leaf, hoping Reid will accept it and ditch a real reform that would finally force the Republican minority to physically stand on the floor of the Senate and talk the entire time they filibuster – "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" style.
It's crucial that Reid rejects this fig leaf, and sides with Democrats who want stronger filibuster reform. Republicans will still be able to kill good legislation in the Senate, even as a minority, in a way that's impossible in the House and is not envisioned at all in the Constitution.
That includes killing legislation to curb global warming and create a carbon cap-and-trade system, as Democrats in the House passed in 2009 but was filibustered by Republicans in the Senate. It includes the DISCLOSE Act, which Democrats in the House passed in 2010 to require disclosure of who's spending money in our elections through dark money groups. It, too, was filibustered by Republicans in the Senate. As was legislation Democrats passed in the House in 2010 that cut off tax breaks for job outsourcers and created new tax breaks for job insourcers.
All of these bills would have still died in the Senate under the McCain filibuster reform plan, but may have actually passed under the Merkley-Udall plan, which forces a talking filibuster.
Of course, even if the Senate reformed the filibuster and was able to pass progressive legislation to do something about global warming, to make corporate America pay its fair share in taxes, and to help middle class families with more stimulus spending, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives would never agree to these bills.
But, that's not the point.
The point – in this divided Congress – is to show voters how crazy the Republicans have really become, since their party has been taken over by about thirty billionaires. For example, the Republican House has been busy passing far-right legislation for two years, including the Ryan budget that ends Medicare as we know it and gives trillions in new tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans.
House Republicans passed 46 bills on abortion, 113 on religion, 36 bills on marriage, and 437 bills on government investigations, or witch-hunts, into the Obama Administration. (But not one jobs bill.)
On the other hand, dealing with the filibuster, the Senate has passed very little. So, with the filibuster intact, Republicans are really the only Party that can pass legislation in either body.
That's why it's crucial for Democrats in the Senate to be able to pass legislation, too, to compete with the House and begin to frame debates on Democratic terms, instead of always just reacting to Republican frames.
If Harry Reid will genuinely reform the filibuster, then over the next two years Democrats can present a clear choice to voters heading into the 2014 midterms.
If Republicans in the House again pass tax breaks for job outsourcers, Democrats in the Senate could pass legislation that brings jobs back home. If Republicans in the House pass more tax cuts for the 1%, Democrats in the Senate could make the 1% pay their fair share in taxes.
When Republicans in the House try again to repeal Obamacare, Democrats in the Senate can protect families from for-profit health insurance company abuses. When Republicans in the House push more tax breaks for big oil, Democrats in the Senate can do something about global climate change. When Republicans in the House refuse to do anything on gun control, Democrats in the Senate can pass legislation to keep weapons of war out of the hands of the mentally ill.
Democrats need a legislative agenda to run on in 2014 to break the Republican majority in the House. That's why they need to begin compiling a resume of progressive legislation passed in the Senate to sell to the American people. And the only way to do that is to ditch the filibuster in its current form.
These are the stakes heading into the new Senate session. As an old boxer and antagonist to the Las Vegan mob, Harry Reid knows how to fight. It's now time for him to take that same fight to the Republican minority in the Senate and give the American people what they want: a Senate that's listening to, and actually passing legislation for, the middle class.
If Reid throws in with Merkley, Warren, and Udall, then the Democrats' prospects for 2014 get a lot brighter.
And if he doesn't already know it, you can let him know by calling his office via www.callcongress.org.