The party conventions are focused on the race for the White House, but there’s precious little mention of what is arguably the more important contest: The fight for the U.S. Senate. Whoever holds that majority will determine whether change next year is centrist or radical.
This assumes Democrats hold the House, which is likely short of a Republican comeback for the ages. Republicans now hold a 53-47 Senate majority, but their hold is precarious. They’re defending as many as eight seats that are competitive, while they look set to gain back only the Alabama seat held by Democrat Doug Jones. A House, Senate and White House sweep would set Democrats up for the policy transformation that Joe Biden recently said he wants.
This would not be your father’s Democratic Senate, or even Barack Obama’s. A Democratic majority would elevate left-wing progressives like Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and Sheldon Whitehouse to positions of power. Normally they’d be constrained by the need to compromise with the minority to get 60 votes to pass legislation. This is what has frustrated both parties for decades, notably Republicans as recently as two years ago on entitlement, health-care and tort reform when they also held all of Congress and the White House.
Democrats have all but announced that, even with a narrow majority of 51 or 52, the 60-vote legislative filibuster is going the way of bourbon and branchwater. “The filibuster is gone,” former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told Politico last week. “It’s not a question of if, it’s a question of when it’s going to go. . . . Next year at this time, it will be gone.”
Harry should know. In 2013 he killed the filibuster rule for judicial nominees on a partisan vote. Barack Obama recently called the filibuster a relic of Jim Crow, though he wanted to use it to stop Samuel Alito’s Supreme Court confirmation. No less a former Senate Old Bull than Mr. Biden has signaled he’d be happy to see it go to grease the skids for his agenda.