In short, McConnell and Boehner should demand that Obama appoint a prominent Bush nominee unfairly blocked by the Democrats — Miguel Estrada and Peter Keisler come to mind — as part of the price for the next part of their bargain. That next part would involve renouncing all the steps they could take now to make legislative life even more miserable, plus further rules changes to ensure that if Republicans retake the majority in the Senate, they won’t run roughshod over the newly minoritized Democrats’ rights. (Without getting too far into the weeds, let us posit that one change, which is technically feasible, would be to outlaw the very maneuver Reid used to change Senate rules in mid-session by challenging the ruling of the parliamentarian.)
The key would be to frame this compromise in the context of what Republicans otherwise
could and would be willing to do, namely continuing to ratchet up the partisan knife play. To paraphrase a famous line of James Madison’s, the acceptance of the Harkin-Lieberman proposal would amount to use of a “Democratic remedy for the diseases most incident to Democratic government.” By offering a permanent solution, and permanent truce on filibuster rules, Republican leaders would be making a noteworthy attempt at a solutions-oriented compromise.
Note, however, that the benefits of such an offer go well beyond any potential gains procedurally or in the identity of judicial or executive-branch nominees. The main benefit of making such an offer is to secure public credit for the very public making of a reasonable and constructive offer. The game, or rather the very important political fight, isn’t about the filibuster; the fight is about gaining the political capital necessary to win public support for crucial public-policy battles (not to mention elections) to come.
Barack Obama and the Democrats likely will keep suffering politically because of the fallout from the disaster that is Obamacare, but Republicans and conservatives will not see their own ratings rise concomitantly until we regain the electorate’s trust as proponents of the broader public good rather than narrow partisan advantage.
Such a filibuster fix could, at virtually no cost in terms of politics or policy, put GOP leaders on the side of a public that is tired of bickering and eager for consensus.
Democrats probably won’t agree to this proposal — but if they don’t, they will look the worse for rejecting it, while Republicans will look better for having made the attempt. Political wars as well as real wars are won by taking the high ground, and if Republicans can sound the right tone while promoting this solution, they can start to reclaim those heights.
— Quin Hillyer is a contributing editor of National Review and a senior fellow for the Center for Individual Freedom.