After pushing through one of the most significant rule changes in Senate history, Majority Leader Harry Reid struck a solemn tone: "This is not a time for celebration."
But behind closed doors in a room off the Senate floor, some of the newer Democratic senators couldn't help themselves, gathering for a quick party to congratulate one another. They were the ones largely responsible for pushing the veteran Nevada lawmaker to pull the trigger on ending filibusters against most presidential nominations.
The partisan revelers were part of a new breed of Democrats emerging in the Senate. Mostly elected after 2006, these relative newcomers have only known a Democratic-controlled Senate and have little experience with successful bipartisan cooperation, due largely to the tea party's grip on the Republican Party.
Now they are hoping to become a new power center in the party, nudging the old guard to adopt more aggressive tactics in pursuit of legislative goals and largely brushing aside Republican threats of retaliation and obstruction. They see the rules and traditions of the Senate as having stifled the will of the majority and stalled President Obama's agenda.In this sense, the "new breed" of Democratic senators are the doppelgangers of the Gingrich House Republicans of the 1980s and 1990s. For them, the 1978 midterm was the main point of entry. Aggressive opposition to tax hikes and Carter foreign policy defined the Gingrichites, just as equally aggressive opposition to the Iraq War and Bush economic policy marked the emergence of the new Senate breed. The House Republicans of the earlier time had never served in the majority. The new Senate Democrats have never served in the minority. The House Republicans chafed under Tip O'Neill's heavy-handed tactics. The Senate Democrats chafe under what they see as Tea Party obstructionism. The pressure on Reid to adopt tougher tactics is reminiscent of GOP pressure on Bob Michel.