Wednesday, February 10, 2010


Steve Benin has an excellent post up describing the nuclear option -- using the majority in the Senate to bully through filibuster reform.  I think it's a fair appraisal:
For one thing, it would represent a radical abuse. The notion that the vice president could use his position to rewrite Senate rules has no precedent in American history, making this an extraordinary and unprecedented move...Also note, however, why this was called the "nuclear option" in the first place -- Lott knew five years ago that Daschle & Co. would be so apoplectic about the scheme, they'd use every parliamentary procedure imaginable to bring the Senate to a complete halt. And since unanimous consent is practically a requirement in the Senate to turn the lights on in the morning, the minority could very well shut down the chamber, with or without Rule 22.
If Dems were to try the "nuclear option" now, chances are reasonably good that the already dysfunctional chamber may become even worse.
The question to consider is whether Democrats really have anything to lose at this point.
The answer to that is: clearly, yes.  Just yesterday, the defeat of cloture for Craig Becker for the NLRB was accompanied by confirmation for a Third Circuit Appeals Court Judge.  Last week, the Senate confirmed the Department of Labor Solicitor and the GSA Administrator (both by recorded votes; I don't know if there were any confirmations by voice vote).  Earlier today, I was talking about cloture-beating Filibusters and foot-dragging filibusters; ending the former would subject the Senate to many more of the latter, and those are plenty effective, especially for low priority items such as, say, most executive branch nominations and district and appeals court judges.

There are lots of good reasons not to implement the nuclear option.  On the other hand, threatening to implement the nuclear option may be a reasonable strategy.  And I'm pretty sure that it makes sense for liberal Senators outside of the leadership to call for the nuclear strategy, regardless of whether they really want filibuster reform or not; while I don't think such things are especially important in the grand scheme of things, Democrats surely should be emphasizing the importance of majorities, and forcing Republicans to get questions about why minorities should run things.  (Granted, such rhetoric won't work on me, because I'm not especially impressed with majoritarian claims, but you use what you have, and I'm certainly in a very small minority on this one).

1 comment:

  1. You don't need to waste your time (I mean that sincerely) to explain the details again to an educated (attorney, in fact) middle-aged man why breaking the filibuster is somehow wrong. But I will tell you again that it makes no sense and I can't get it from either you or Benin.

    You get 55 votes -- hey! even 50 votes and the VP -- and you have what is called a republic and you have policy.

    Yes, fundamental rule-making and -breaking should be done with care. But a very decisive majority of 59 senators is even bigger than it appears by the numbers (California 2 votes, Wyoming 2 votes) and it is being thwarted.


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