The Washington Post editorial page led the charge in denouncing the change in Senate filibuster rules engineered by Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and 51 of his Democratic colleagues last Thursday. Many other media voices quickly followed suit.
Reid’s action to allow a simple majority of senators present and voting — not the longstanding 60 — to end debate and proceed to a vote on presidential nominations to executive and judicial offices (except the Supreme Court) has now been widely characterized as a radical step, certain to accelerate the poisonous partisanship in Congress. It will, critics insist, grievously damage the Senate’s comparative advantage over the House of Representatives in fostering bipartisan negotiation and compromise.
The procedure Reid used — setting a new cloture precedent with a simple majority despite a Senate rule requiring a two-thirds majority to change Senate rules — was gutsy. Yet this method has been long available to the Senate. It was even proposed by Republican Majority Leader Bill Frist in 2005 and occasionally used to make minor changes in the filibuster.
Indeed, the threat by Senate majority leaders to use the “nuclear” or “constitutional” option to address abusive uses of the filibuster has often failed because senators in both parties were reluctant to give up the individual and opposition party power that flow from the filibuster.
But this time was different.
Strong Republican opposition to an up or down vote on President Barack Obama’s nominees to the three vacancies on the D.C. Court of Appeals was the last straw in the face of an unprecedented five-year campaign by the Republicans to use any means — whatever the cost to the operations of government and the country’s welfare — to delay, defeat, disable, discredit or nullify the ambitions and achievements of the Obama presidency.