All that senators seeking compromise have to do to restore the Senate to far greater functionality is to play hard ball with their leaders. Whether the Senate ends up managed by McConnell or Democratic leader Chuck Schumer (N.Y.) after the election, a small group of senators will still possess the power to block anything the majority leader tries to steamroll through the chamber.
Flake and Corker are retiring, but even conservatives like Alexander and Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.) have shown a desire to find common ground. Most of the Senate’s moderate Democrats are locked in tight re-election races, but should their party surprise and take control of the Senate, senators like Joe Manchin (W.Va.) and Jon Tester (Mont.) can fulfill the same function. Even should they lose, liberals like Chris Coons (Del.), Mark Warner (Va.), and Dianne Feinstein (Calif.) might be willing to partner with Republicans.
On hot-button issues, compromise by definition would mean each side swallowing provisions it hates in exchange for things it wants. A deal on health care, for example, might involve allowing the sale of catastrophic plans without minimum benefits in exchange for the creation of a public option. On climate change, there might be a compromise along the lines of the conservative plan for a carbon tax laid out by Republican luminaries last winter. On countless other issues, ranging from taxes, to child care, to voting rights, one can envision similar deals. The two sides might even seek out novel, non-ideological ideas to address pressing national problems. Maybe more importantly, when big deals can’t be struck, individual senators can push back against the partisan impulses that poison the well and make achieving any subsequent deals more difficult.