Why the Democrats voted to change the filibuster rules

November 22, 2013

Yesterday, the Senate voted to change the rule on filibusters, which the minority party can use to block votes from happening. The use of the filibuster by the Republican minority finally spurred Senate Democrats to use what they had been calling the “nuclear option” — voting the filibuster out of existence (supporters of filibuster reform have long called it the “Constitutional option”). “The now-defunct rule, a symbol of Washington gridlock, has survived dozens of attacks over the years largely because both major political parties like to use it,” Reuters writes.

But in the chart below, you can see the spike in the number of cloture votes (which, if they pass by a three-fifths vote, end a filibuster) since President Obama was elected.

While this will be a fundamental change in the way the Senate works, the rule change did not completely get rid of the filibuster. The procedural hurdle, which requires 60 votes to overturn, can no longer be used used to block judicial and executive branch nominees, but it is still an option for Supreme Court nominees and normal legislation.

Reuters explains more about how the new rules are expected to speed up Democratic appointments:

The change will speed up the confirmation of Obama appointments to the courts as well as to cabinet and regulatory agencies.

One beneficiary is likely to be Representative Mel Watt, whose nomination to take over the agency that regulates mortgage finance giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac was being blocked by Republicans.

But the immediate spark was Democratic frustration at Republican use of the filibuster to block Obama’s appointments to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, considered the nation’s second most important court after the U.S. Supreme Court.


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The democrats will pay for this in the future if not now.

Posted by jorge62 | Report as abusive

While both sides have at times abused the process – it’s pretty obvious that Republicans have taken that abuse to a whole new level since Obama was elected. This change is past due… it’s time to clear the gridlock and get our country moving again. We’ve got far too many critical, festering problems to be playing these partisan games.

Posted by mb56 | Report as abusive

This is a very sad day for America. This 200+ year tool of gridlock was purposely built into our form of government to prevent the abuse of political minorities. Our government is supposed to move slowly on appointments and legislation, with a center of gravity towards the middle ground. Mark this sad day as the beginning of the end of the old lighthouse of American democracy…hello banana republic.

Posted by sarkozyrocks | Report as abusive

If this change serves to get Mel Watt approved at the Federal Housing Finance Board, it will be worth it. For the entire Obama administration, we’ve suffered from the leadership of the acting head, Edward Delgado, who blocked critical steps to help distressed homeowners, such as modifying the balances of delinquent home loans to make them affordable to the borrowers and reflect current, as opposed to bubble-inflated, property values. We could have helped hundreds of thousands more borrowers keep their homes, and prevent abandonment and blight in hard-hit communities, but the GOP didn’t want that. Watt will be a vast improvement.

Posted by WMattP | Report as abusive

It can’t be any worse than it is. Let republicans get mad. They are crazy already.

Posted by mstumer | Report as abusive

The actual ‘nuclear option’ was the republicans deciding to filibuster every piss-ant appointment in America. Because they lost an election.

Time to move on, this was long overdue.

Posted by AlkalineState | Report as abusive

I remember an old PBS documentary on the history of the US government. This informative presentation included an interview with Senator Byrd (when he was still just about alive), in which he croaked, to my utter disgust, his opinion that one of the best things about the Senate was that senators “could talk for as long as they wanted to!” — I’m sure this opinion would sound very strange to Byrd’s current Democratic colleagues in the Senate.

Posted by matthewslyman | Report as abusive

The Senate made this move now to ensure Janet Yelin would be confirmed without the Senate having to vote on the Audit the Fed legislation. Republicans have been trying to get Harry Reid to allow a vote on this legislation for years. Filibustering Yelin’s nomination was going to be their leverage.

Keep the presses running. The rubes will never catch on.

Posted by SteveTX | Report as abusive

Freedom of speech – what nonsense. Let’s get rid of nasty things like that. If you think the average guy is being stomped on now, you haven’t seen nothing yet. Let our voices go un-heard. Got to love those power hungry mongers. Hang on, when did I move to the Soviet Union?

Posted by bobinmo | Report as abusive

Reed did this for one reason, YUCCA mountain storage of nuclear waste in his state, he put his selfish goals ahead of what is good for the nation, and obama used this to persuade him

Posted by innismor | Report as abusive