Over the course of the past few weeks, the Senate has been more hectic than usual. There has been much debate over the use of filibusters in the Senate, and the more often than not useless delays that they have been causing. Historically, the filibuster has been a way to obtain a bipartisan compromise; but now it is beginning to look like a way to slow down the senate process. However, last Tuesday’s bipartisan agreement in the Senate showed that compromise is not a thing of the past in Washington.
In this agreement, Republicans agreed to limit their use of filibusters when dealing with executive branch nominations. The move towards compromise was initiated when the Republican minority faced the possibility of the Senate majority using the “nuclear option,” a parliamentary maneuver that could hypothetically over-ride Republican filibusters by only requiring a majority (50%) vote to end said filibuster, opposed to the current super-majority (60%) required. Due to the Democratic majority in the Senate, the nuclear option could effectively block all Republican attempts to filibuster the voting of executive branch nominees.
So why didn’t the Senate pass the use of the nuclear option? While it could have been extremely helpful for the Democratic majority in the short-term, there are some long-term reasons that may have deterred the passing of the nuclear option.
1. Senate control changes somewhat frequently
Control of the Senate is a bit more fickle than that of the House, and Senators are keenly aware of that. Between now and the year 1945, the control of the Senate has changed twelve times, and control of the House has only shifted seven times.
Due to the possibility of a GOP takeover, some Democrats are somewhat reluctant to create rules that work against them if Democrats find themselves in the Senate Minority. If the GOP gained Senate control in the future (which will eventually happen), the then Democratic minority would be faced with the nuclear option being used against them, and would have to deal with their own filibusters being overturned.
2. Fear of a large congressional meltdown
Bipartisan compromises are necessary for the Senate to function. Compromise also means that both sides are [more or less] happy with whatever is being debated at the time. If the nuclear option were passed, it would put the majority in a position sufficient to essentially make the Senate one-sided. The House is already deeply divided and often has trouble functioning. If the Senate were more or less one-sided, it would be essentially dysfunctional in its ability to come up with bipartisan compromises.
3. At the end of the day, it didn’t really need to be used
The nuclear option could have been used, and it might have been passed. However, just the possibility of it being used lead to the Republican minority agreeing to lessen the amount of filibusters used to delay voting on executive branch nominees. The nuclear option being used as an ultimatum alone seems to be enough to reach a deal between the two parties, without the effects of the issues listed above.
While the Senate did come to a compromise, it is clear that the Senate may need to rethink how and when filibusters should be used in order to prevent another dispute in the future. The fact that the Senate rules might have been changed shows that something needs to be done.