Jon Tester has been called the winner of the Senate election in Montana. This leaves the North Dakota race as the only one uncalled, and there, Democrat Heidi Heitkamp leads by 3,000 votes with all ballots counted. So the likely outcome is a Heitkamp win, and a 55-45 majority for Democrats (putting independents Angus King and Bernie Sanders, a victor last night, on the Democratic side).
I’ve already noted that this is not just a partisan but an ideological shift in the Senate. Harry Reid has already announced that he thinks Republicans should relent with their obstructionism after the loss.
“Now that the election is over, it’s time to put politics aside, and work together to find solutions,” Reid said in a statement. “The strategy of obstruction, gridlock and delay was soundly rejected by the American people. Now, they are looking to us for solutions. We have big challenges facing us in the months ahead. Democrats and Republicans must come together, and show that we are up to the challenge. This is no time for excuses. This is no time for putting things off until later. We can achieve big things when we work together. And the middle class is counting on us to achieve big things in the months ahead. That is what the American people expect – and that is what the American people deserve.”
This is something that politicians say after every election, and it never comes to pass. What’s more, it SHOULDN’T come to pass. People disagree about big issues in this country. That’s natural. There are many different beliefs on how government should work. They should get played out.
The difference between this country and most others are the procedural barriers that block a victorious political party from implementing an agenda. The most critical vote in the US Senate will come in early January when they set their rules for the next Congress. Reid has already said that he made a mistake not implementing changes to the filibuster nearly two years ago. Jeff Merkley, one of the ringleaders of that effort, backed nine Senate candidates up for election last night after they endorsed reforming the filibuster. Six of them won, including Heitkamp. There’s a growing bloc, then, to make changes, and only 50 are needed in January to do so. If Reid and Chuck Schumer swing behind changes, which they did not do at the beginning of 2011, you really could see movement.
Ultimately, that’s the only way you’ll see progress over the long term. Republicans aren’t going to have a “civil war” in their party – both sides would represent the Confederacy, after all. They will ride a gerrymandered House for the next eight years, and hope that demographics and smarter Democratic play at the district level doesn’t swamp them. But if it does, somewhere down the road you could have a situation again where a political party wins enough of a share of government to actually implement their agenda. And that will only work if the institutional barriers to that implementation get broken down in the Senate.