Can the G-20 save the filibuster -- and the Senate from itself?

Not that G-20 collection of industrial nations, but another G-20 that resides fully within Capitol Hill. As the filibuster wars continue to rage in an evenly split Congress, twenty senators have formed a bipartisan working group to mull over collaboration and compromise. This G-20 is also split evenly between the parties, and might have leadership from both worried about the agenda for the next 18 months, Politico reports:

As progressives push the Senate into a brawl over nixing the legislative filibuster, a group of senators is setting out to do the impossible: prove that the moribund chamber can still function.

A group of 20 senators, mostly centrists but also including some more ideological members of both parties, is seeking to replicate its success last year in breaking a months-long logjam on coronavirus relief. The so-called G-20 hopes to develop bipartisan approaches to issues like the minimum wage, immigration and infrastructure, in the process providing a compelling argument against axing the filibuster — if it can produce results.

“I do think that that group will be key to keeping the filibuster intact, and I hope that a number of them hold strong,” said Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.). “It’s really important.”

The bipartisan group met Wednesday afternoon for lunch and emerged from the meeting optimistic about the potential for cooperation, pledging to meet every two weeks. Divided equally between deal-seeking Republicans and Democrats, the bloc could become a critical power center in Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s 50-50 Senate.

The question is less G-20 than Y-20 — as in, why 20 members? Previous “gangs” have ranged from eight to fifteen, but this one’s rather large as caucuses go, especially bipartisan caucuses. The answer is simple math: Chuck Schumer needs 10 Republicans to break a filibuster. If he can woo the G-20 into supporting a bill, he can get it to pass. That’s at least a healthier option than a meltdown over revoking the legislative filibuster.

Getting that to happen is not so simple, and not just because of the ten Republicans in the G-20. Let’s take the infrastructure bill as an example. In order to get a G-20 imprimatur, Schumer will have to offer some significant concessions to the GOP, likely both on overall cost and targeting of the spending. What happens if he does that and suddenly he loses a handful of progressives? That might well happen if, say, the infrastructure bill comes out of the House with the Fight for 15 minimum-wage hike as an amendment. There is no way that will get by the G-20’s GOP members, not with people like Rob Portman in that caucus. If Schumer gains 10 Republicans just to lose 11 Democrats, it’s not going to help much, except perhaps just to get past a cloture vote. Think about some of the other agenda items coming through the Senate — gun control, election reforms, and so on — and you see the minefield ahead for governance over posturing.

Still, this is worth a try, and it might take pressure off of Schumer to drop another nuclear option on a repeatedly-nuked filibuster process. If the two parties can start collaborating and governing, there will be much less need for filibusters. The Biden administration keeps saying they want bipartisanship, but to get that they have to allow Republicans to participate in drafting the legislation rather than just dictating to them. Why would Republicans take any ownership in legislation they got locked out of drafting, after all? Barack Obama locked them out of the drafting of both the 2009 stimulus and the original ObamaCare bill and just insisted that their ideas were bipartisan, and little has changed in the 12 years since on either side.

If the Senate still wants to govern, the G-20 is a pretty good experiment in it. If all the members really want is a platform for performance art, then the G-20 isn’t going to go far. Its failure would at least make senators’ commitment to actual governing clear, though.