Senate Democrats Grow A Pair, Vote ‘Nuclear Option’ On Filibuster Reform

Senate passes filibuster rule change, paves way for court nominees. Senator Harry Reid invokes nuclear option.

Harry Reid warned the GOP that he’d use the ‘nuclear option’ if they kept abusing filibusters to block Obama’s appointments. Now, he finally did it. Photo of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) from Wikipedia. Photo of nuclear explosion from Wallpapers Lot. Collage by Elisabeth Parker for Addicting Info.

Finally! Senate Dems found the balls on Thursday to limit the filibuster of nominees to federal courts and of executive-office appointments. From now on, approval for ending the debates and moving these candidates towards a final vote will require a simple majority, rather than the super-majority that has been required for the last 200 years. The rule change will not apply to nominations of Supreme Court justices.

The filibuster rule change is of historic proportions.

The filibuster rule change is of such historic proportions that it was called the ‘nuclear option’. The last change to the rules for confirming appointments took place almost 40 years ago and lowered the threshold for ending a filibuster from a two-thirds majority to 60 votes. Thursday’s vote was along party lines. All of the GOP senators opposed the change, and were joined by three Democrats. The final vote count was 52-48.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has repeatedly threatened to deploy the ‘nuclear option.’  He was finally pushed to do it when the GOP used an unprecedented number of filibusters to block President Barack Obama’s nominees. Just since the end of October, the GOP has blocked appointees to head federal agencies Fannie Mae (FNMA) and Freddie Mac (FMCC), as well as three nominees to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The rule change will likely result in rapid approval for all of them.

Republicans have been determined to keep the President’s nominees off of the D.C. Court Of Appeals. Their true desire is to eliminate some of the seats on the court, so they can preserve its current conservative bent. Since they don’t have the votes to accomplish this goal, they’ve used the filibuster to achieve the same practical result. Why is this court so important? Four of the current Supreme Court justices served on it before being nominated to the highest court in the land: Chief Justice John Roberts, and Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

The GOP offered too little, too late on court nominees.

Reid had been offered a deal brokered by Senator John McCain, R-Ariz., that would have allowed approval of just one of the court nominees in exchange for not invoking the filibuster rule change. But it was too little, too late. Speaking from the Senate floor, Reid said, “It’s time to change the Senate before this institution becomes obsolete. The American people believe Congress is broken. The American people believe the Senate is broken. And I agree.”

The threats from the GOP, of course, came immediately. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky, called this move by the Democrats a power grab. He said, “We’re not interested in having a gun put to our head any longer. Some of us have been around here long enough to know that the shoe is sometimes on the other foot … You [Democrats] may regret this a lot sooner than you think.” Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, was a lot more specific. He said that once voters return Republicans to the majority, they’ll change the rules again, so that Democrats can’t filibuster nominees to the Supreme Court.

McConnell immediately tried to change the focus to Obamacare, saying that Democrats had picked “a fake fight” over court nominees in order to “distract the public” from the troubled rollout  of the Affordable Care Act. Much gnashing of Republican teeth and laments over the death of bipartisanship could be heard from their caucus.

If bipartisanship doesn’t exist, how can it die?

But what bipartisanship is the GOP talking about? The word has had no meaning since President Obama took office. Republicans decided to do everything in their power to stymie every initiative put forth by the administration. According to the Congressional Research Service, majority leaders in the House filed motions to break the filibusters of court nominees 67 times over a period of 46 years, 1967 – 2012. 31 of those motions, or 46%, were filed during the last five years.

Will the use of the ‘nuclear option’ increase the rancor between the parties? Without a doubt. But there’s already a total lack of cooperation from the Republicans in Congress How much worse than zero can it get? At least there is now a path to action, as well as the chance to get a handle on the nation’s problems.