Senate Democrats employed the so-called “nuclear option,” changing Senate rules so as to eliminate the possibility of a filibuster for presidential appointments (not including Supreme Court justices–nor does it apply to regular legislation, which may still be filibustered). The threat of a filibuster–that is, unlimited debate, unless a supermajority shuts it down–has meant that Senators had to cobble together 60 votes to pass a bill or confirm a nominee.
Yes, the filibuster slowed things down, but, as (liberal) Dana Milbank points out, it also required the forging of bipartisan support. For that reason, he says, today’s Senate has actually accomplished much more than the polarized House of Representatives has. “Now the Senate will be just as dysfunctional.” See Mr. Milbank’s case for the filibuster after the jump.
“Congress is broken,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Thursday before holding a party-line vote that disposed of rules that have guided and protected the chamber since 1789.
If Congress wasn’t broken before, it certainly is now. What Reid (Nev.) and his fellow Democrats effectively did was take the chamber of Congress that still functioned at a modest level and turn it into a clone of the other chamber, which functions not at all. They turned the Senate into the House.
Democrats were fully justified in stripping Republicans of their right to filibuster President Obama’s nominees — yet they will come to deeply regret what they have done.
Certainly, Republicans have abused the dilatory tactics that Senate minorities have, for centuries, used with greater responsibility; they seem intent on bringing government to a halt. And the Senate in 2013 is hardly a healthy institution. Yet it has achieved far more than the House — passing bipartisan immigration legislation and a farm bill and working out deals to avoid default and to end the federal government shutdown — largely because, until Thursday, Senate rules required the majority party to win votes from the minority. . . .
The word “historic” is often tossed around in Washington, but this change ends a tradition dating to the earliest days of the republic. For the nation’s first 118 years, there were no limits on debate in the Senate. After 1917, cutting off debate, or reaching “cloture,” required a two-thirds majority. In 1975, that threshold was reduced to 60 of 100 votes. Even that lower minimum required lawmakers to cooperate with each other.
“Cloture has fostered more bipartisanship in the Senate,” Donald Ritchie, the Senate historian, told me Thursday after Reid detonated his nuclear device. “The majority leader of the Senate is expected to try to work out some kind of a bipartisan deal to get enough votes to get cloture. Because the House is run by majority rule, it is seen as a sign of weakness if the majority leadership of the House has to get votes from the minority side.”
Now the Senate will be just as dysfunctional.