This afternoon, I took part in a roundtable discussion with Senior White House adviser David Axelrod and various progressive media types. The discussion hit on a wide range of topics, but was particularly focused on procedural matters in the Senate.
Axelrod said that because Republicans have decided it requires 60 votes to pass anything in the Senate, they now share responsibility for governing. As such, the White House will make a big push in 2010 to increase public awareness of Republican obstructionism through the use of the filibuster. "They get to work with us, or they have to pay a price,' Axelrod said.
Mixing lobbying with journalism, I told Axelrod it was not think it was possible to make Republicans pay a political price for their egregious use of the filibuster. I told him about the Pew poll released today showing that only 26% of the country knew it took 60 votes in the Senate to end a filibuster. I also told him about Pew polls during the nuclear option fight back in 2005 showing that the public never really took an interest in news about the filibuster, even when it was the top political news story for a couple weeks. Concluding, I told him that, given how few Americans know what the filibuster is, given how little interest they have shown in the past when it became a big political story in the past, there is no way that the White House can engage in a public education campaign large enough to ever make Republicans pay a meaningful political price for their use of the filibuster. As such, wouldn't it be easier to for 51 Senators to change the Senate rules on the first day of Congress in 2011, so that only 51 votes are required to pass anything through the Senate?
Axelrod responded that was "a worthy discussion." While he indicated the White House was mainly focused on passing legislation in 2010, rather than on what happens in 2011, in no way did he dismiss, challenge, or denigrate the idea.
Further, later on in the discussion, David Waldman of Daily Kos asked Axelrod if the White House would assist a campaign to change the Senate rules in 2011, if such a campaign started to take off on its own.
To that, Axelrod responded, "we have an interest" in such a campaign.
While Axelrod again emphasized that the White House would be focusing on 2010 for now, and on attempting to make Republicans either work with them or pay a political price for obstructing them, he offered no pushback against the idea of changing the rules of the Senate to eliminate the filibuster.
From my vantage point, the implication was very much that the White House would be working on educating the public about how Republicans are using the filibuster to defend the status quo, and that the White House would be very interested if a campaign to end the filibuster altogether if it began to take off concurrent with their efforts. Perhaps, toward the end of 2010, the White House would even be interested in helping such a campaign if a coalition of Senators, progressive groups, progressive media types, and progressive grassroots could push the ball far enough down the road.
A very encouraging meeting. A campaign to end the filibuster should now be considered a viable option.