Harry Reid drops the bomb

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 Using their 55-45 Senate majority, they dumped many decades of precedent and largely repealed the rules allowing filibusters for presidential nominees.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.

Sections (2):Editorials, Opinion

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Bulldogmojo wrote on November 25, 2013 at 1:11 pm

"The process has worked well over the last 200-plus years"


Filibustering is the government equivalent of a child holding their breath until they turn blue. It is yet another absurd tool for the intellectually lazy politicians who can't find compromise which is what we send them to Washington to do.

jhzolitor wrote on November 25, 2013 at 3:11 pm

I take great exception to your use of the word, occasionally, when describing the tendency of Republican's use of the filibuster on the president's nominees. "Sometimes but not often", is how the word is defined at Merriam-Webster Online. Republicans have invoked the filibuster so often that votes to end a filibuster is about two and a half times greater than at any other time when congress has been similarly configured. It's a real stretch to call that "occasionally". The rate at which Republicans have invoked the filibuster on presidential nominees is over twice the rate of any other president. Are you saying that the people the president has nominated for various positions are so much more unqualified than the nominees of any other president?  If that is what you think, say so. Don't mislead your readers, and don't misrepresent the Republican use of the filibuster as anything other than excessive. 

yates wrote on November 25, 2013 at 11:11 pm

Really comrades? Soon as the shoe is on the other foot you'll both be crying foul. And it is going to happen.

jhzolitor wrote on November 26, 2013 at 11:11 am

Comrades? Really? You think that reasoned opposition to a News-Gazette editorial implies some nefarious socialist threat? I'm aware of the likelihood of a Democratic minority senate at some point in the future, and I'm aware that the rule change will limit the procedural options of that minority. So be it. Are you aware that your red baiting is an anachronism, and indicative of one who can't make coherent, convincing arguments and must result to character misdirection in an attempt to find support for your opinion?