Republicans filibustering seemingly every second to obstruct the Obama administration’s agenda has gotten under Democrats’ skin at last. Thursday, after being dared by the GOP to go nuclear, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid pulled the plug on filibustering, allowing presidential nominees to be approved with a simple majority vote for the remainder of this Congress.
The Senate will require only 51 votes for all appointees, with the exception of Supreme Court justices. And the Senate can finally be functional again, or at least somewhat. Mother Jones reports:
There are 100 senators, and winning a simple majority (51 senators, or 50 if the vice president votes to break a tie) was once sufficient to confirm presidential nominees and pass legislation. But over the past several decades, both parties have increasingly used the filibuster—a procedural move that requires 60 senators to end debate and force a vote—to block the other side’s agenda. Since 2009, when Obama took office, Senate Republicans have used constant filibuster threats to force Democrats to win 60 votes to do almost anything. On Thursday, Democrats finally decided they’d had enough, and changed the rules. In the future, executive-branch and judicial nominees will be subject to simple up-or-down majority votes. But the filibuster lives on partially: Legislation and Supreme Court nominees will still be subject to filibusters.
The filibuster has bedeviled Democrats ever since Obama took office. A world without the filibuster would include major pieces of progressive legislation: the Affordable Care Act would have a single-payer option, the stimulus act would have been much larger, and gun control would have passed the Senate. The Senate might have even managed to pass a version of a cap-and-trade climate change mitigation bill in 2010 if it hadn’t been for the filibuster. Despite this constant obstruction, Democrats were timid, afraid to upend Senate tradition.
Then, over the past several months, a fight over nominees to a little-known but influential court pushed Reid to finally change the rules. ...
The real reason Democrats were so eager to confirm Obama’s DC Circuit nominees, and Republicans were so desperate to block them, is that the court’s current conservative majority has repeatedly blocked the president’s agenda. Since most of the federal bureaucracy resides in DC, the DC Circuit is tasked with assessing the constitutionality of federal rules and regulations. Conservatives on the court have neutered much of Dodd-Frank, the post-recession financial reform bill that was meant to keep banks in check. The court also overturned Obama’s ability to appoint staff while Congress is out of town and struck down state environmental rules that would have regulated emissions from other states.
And Reid shows us in one tweet why the nuclear option was the only choice in the end:
—Posted by Natasha Hakimi
(AP/J. Scott Applewhite)
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.