Is The Change To The Senate Filibuster Rule A Good Thing?

Senate filibulster rule change and what it means for us in the future. John Cole, The Scranton Times-Tribune

Senate Democrats voted to change the rules so the GOP can no longer abuse filibusters to block Obama’s appointments. Now, the future looks really scary. Cartoon by John Cole, The Scranton Times-Tribune

What happened to the Senate filibuster?

By now you should have heard that the Democrats in the Senate made a change to senate filibusters by a vote of 52-48 to allow a simple majority rule to confirm presidential nominations.

But what does that really mean for you?

The move means that Republicans will no longer be able to prevent President Obama’s nominees from receiving a vote on the Senate floor. Circuit court judicial posts that have been left vacant and appointments for department heads, that have been suppressed to keep Obama from being able to do almost anything productive, are all gone now.

It also means that if, and when, the majority rule swings back to the Republican Party we will all be subject to whatever and whoever the Tea-publicans decide should be running and judging the country. For the current time this is something worth celebrating. It should remove the obstructionism that has become the norm in Washington. But if we could have this changed back to a super majority before Republican leadership would be allowed to inflict its wrath that would make me feel a lot more secure.

The history of the Senate filibuster.

Rules to abolish Senate filibusters of executive and judicial nominations, except Supreme Court nominations, have changed but once in our nation’s history. From the time cloture rules were enacted in 1917 the senate filibuster was rarely used. The rules were changed from a two-thirds vote (67) to a three-fifths vote (60) in 1975.

The 1975 rules change to allow just 60 votes to stop a nomination meant it became easier to get a few members of another caucus to swing your way. The senate filibuster gained more traction and became a tool of obstruction.

Now, a simple majority, (51-49) means that the party that holds the majority cannot hardly be stopped or slowed from ramming their agenda down the throat of the American people. Only the majority party’s self-restraint stands between democracy and dictatorial rule.

In the long-term, the rule change represents a substantial power shift in a chamber that for more than two centuries has prided itself on affording more rights to the minority party than any other legislative body in the world. Now, a president whose party holds the majority in the Senate is virtually assured of having his nominees approved, with far less opportunity for political obstruction.

“It’s time to change the Senate before this institution becomes obsolete,” Reid declared before the vote, “The American people believe Congress is broken. The American people believe the Senate is broken. And I agree,” Reid added.

McConnell’s retort?

If you want to play games… You’ll regret this. And you may regret it a lot sooner than you think.

Obama is not to blame for the Senate’s filibuster rules change.

President Obama’s comments, after hearing of the decision, were centrist and aware of historical context when he said, “neither party has been blameless for these tactics.”  Only to continue with, “today’s pattern of obstruction . . . just isn’t normal; it’s not what our founders envisioned.”

Did that matter to anyone on the right? Since the vote, Republicans have been playing and re-playing video of then Senator Obama, Reid and Joe Biden talking about the perils of changing the rules of the senate filibuster. At every turn the disinformation and spin machines have played these clips in an effort to portray the Democrats of hypocrisy and, as McConnell put it, “a power grab”. But the clips of our President, Vice President and senate majority leader were made before 2008.

Right Wing Watch shows how Senate Republicans have abused the filibuster to block President Obama’s nominees in five easy-to-digest charts. The one below shows that 82 appointments were blocked for Obama, compared with only 86 for all other U.S. presidents put together.

Infographic from Right Wing Watch comparing filibusters used during the Obama administration compared with other administrations.

Filibuster infographic Courtesy of Right Wing Watch.

Republicans have been more obstructive since Obama has been President than any party has at any point in the history of the United States. And while this rule had a nickname of the “nuclear option” for a reason, the 82 obstructions in 5 years by the Republican caucus left literally no other option.

The fallout of invoking the nuclear option of the Senate filibuster.

Bottom line here is simple. As long as Democrats retain control of the Senate there is no fear of extremist measures. It also means if you’re an Independent you have a better chance of working with rational, moderate judges and appointments.

But Republicans have historically been able to rally the crazies to come out on Election Day. Quite frankly, that is the part that has me scared. If people, who notoriously let others decide, don’t get off the couch, wait in line and make their voices heard by VOTING then this move could be disastrous.

That’s exactly what the Republicans are threatening. Bill Maher may have best put it into perspective when he said, “It feels good now. It’s not going to feel so good when Pres. Ted Cruz fills the D.C. circuit court with Ann Coulter, Bill O’Reilly and a fetus.”