Harry Reid drops the bomb
U.S. Senate Democrats embraced the so-called "nuclear option" in their repeal of filibuster rules regarding presidential nominees.
Back when President George W. Bush was president, leading Democratic members of the U.S. Senate, including former Sen. Barack Obama and current Sen. Dick Durbin, initiated the once-unheard-of practice of filibustering Bush's judicial nominees to prevent their confirmation.
Their decision to conduct a filibuster, which allows endless debate unless shut off by a 60-vote majority of the 100-member Senate, was distasteful but well within the rules. Democrats argued it was a legitimate tactic while Republicans disagreed vehemently.
Since turnabout is fair play, Republicans have occasionally used the filibuster to block some of President Obama's nominees. Now it's Obama and the Democrats who decry the tactic they once embraced with such fervor.
Last week, Democrats did more than complain. Using their 55-45 Senate majority, they dumped many decades of precedent and largely repealed the rules allowing filibusters for presidential nominees. Now the Democratic Senate majority can provide quick confirmations to Obama nominees, and in the future, a Republican Senate can do the same for a Republican president's nominees.
Most Americans don't know much about the filibuster and could not care less. But they do care about the separation of powers and legislative process that was established to protect the people from those who govern them.
The Senate is insulated from the passions of a majority with rules that allow delays and six-year terms. With its two-year terms of office and no delaying tactics, the House is designed to be more responsive to public opinion. It's a delicate balance that was established to allow Congress to be influenced by, but not to become a slave to, public opinion. The Founders reasoned, correctly, that what people think they want on one day, they might not want the next.
The process has worked well over the last 200-plus years. Unfortunately, short-sighted Democrats have recast the Senate to deal with their priorities of the moment. To do so, they changed the filibuster rule to benefit themselves when in the majority after using it in the opposite way while in the minority.
Hypocrisy is a constant in politics. But this hypocrisy sets the all-time standard.
The rules ought to be the rules. Those who complain that politics in Washington is far too confrontational and partisan to serve the public interest need only look at how Senate Democrats have gamed the rules to see why. Bush judicial nominees who were filibustered were just as deserving of a confirmation vote as Obama's nominees. Democratic senators blocked them then and will rubber-stamp them now.
For Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, it's a short-term victory. He'll get the confirmations he and Obama covet. But politics is a long-term endeavor, and one day, there will be a Republican majority, and it will be free to act then as Democrats plan to act now.
The vote on repeal, which for now at least does not affect Supreme Court nominations, was 52-48. Three forward-thinking Democrats — U.S. Sens. Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Carl Levin of Michigan and Joe Manchin of West Virginia — voted no. Pryor said that the Senate "was designed to protect, not stamp out, the voices of the minority."
Today, it's Republicans who will be silenced. Tomorrow, it may be Democrats.