Senate Democrats, led by Harry Reid (D-NV), eliminated the filibuster option in November, killing any chance for Senate Republicans to have a say in executive, appellate and district nominees. In other words, President Obama can put anyone he wants into power with a little help from his friends in the Senate.
Traditionally, Senate Rules have allowed senators to speak for as long as they want on any topic of their choice in order to prevent or delay Senate action on a bill or major decision unless a 60-vote supermajority invokes cloture to bring debate to a close.
But when Reid introduced the new “nuclear option,” the rules changed. Not only have Democrats eliminated the filibuster, but they did it using only a simple majority. In a party-line vote of 52-48, all but three Democrats voted to execute the changes. Typically, such a vote is only ever used for small procedural changes, never for anything so extreme. Major rules changes and presidential nominations have always required a two-thirds supermajority.
Now apparently the majority can do whatever it wants. As long as Democrats have a simple majority, which they already have if everyone votes along party lines, they can push through nominations with no input from Republicans.
Reid, claiming it was the only option he had, remarked “continue like we are or have democracy?” But what the Senate Majority Leader fails to realize is that ensuring that both sides have a say in the process is democratic—allowing one side to have all the power is not.
And it wasn’t all that long ago that Reid, along with some other major liberal power players, was on the other side of the debate. When Republicans controlled the Senate in 2005, the same kind of rule change was threatened by Congress and was confronted by heavy Democratic opposition, including the president himself.
Forbes found that during this time, “then-Senator Barack Obama joined the opposition chorus. He argued that neither party should ‘change the rules in the middle of the game so that they can make all the decisions while the other party is told to sit down and keep quiet.’ Under such a change, he warned that, ‘the bitterness and the gridlock will only get worse.’”
Joined by Obama and Reid were Vice President Joe Biden, who was a Senator from Delaware at the time, and the late Sen. Ted Kennedy. So why the sudden change of heart from so many Democrats? Ask the Senate Minority Leader.
Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters that the move made by Reid is nothing more than a “power grab.” Democrats want to get as many presidential nominees pushed through before midterms, when Republicans will have the opportunity to take control of the Senate.
McConnell is not the only one who has spoken out against the new rules change. Reid has also seen challenges from his own side of the aisle. Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) warns that “if a Senate majority demonstrates it can make such a change once, there are no rules that bind a majority, and all future majorities will feel free to exercise the same power, not just on judges and executive appointments, but on legislation.”
For now, the filibuster will be left in place for Supreme Court nominations and regular legislation. But if the rules can be changed so easily now, what is to prevent future generations of Senators from taking the “nuclear option” even further? Democrats in 2005 were against eliminating the filibuster when they were the minority and will likely be against it the next time Republicans take Congress.
Reid says he agrees with Americans who say that the Senate is broken and he wants to fix it. But introducing a new “tyranny of the majority” is not the way to fix problems in Congress.