Thursday, November 21, 2013

The nuclear option and political extremism

Democratic Majority leader, Harry Reid, exercised the "nuclear option" today in the Senate.  He passed a new rule that eliminates the 60 vote filibuster in order for a vote to go to the Senate floor for a vote.  This will apply only to presidential nominees, and will not apply to presidential Supreme Court nominees, nor will it apply to legislation.

There are two terrible things about this, in my view.  

First, I think it is terrible that the Republicans forced this to happen.  I am sure that the Reps are pleased that the Dems have gone nuclear.  This allows them to blame the Dems for the hyper-partisanship in the Senate and in Congress.  And it clears the way for them to eliminate the filibuster on everything if they take control of the Senate in 2014, which they think is now possible with Obamacare on the ropes.

But, in filibustering three consecutive judge nominees for the D.C. district court they announced loudly and clearly that they fully intended to filibuster pretty much everyone that Obama nominated.  They have a long and inglorious record of blocking Obama nominees for both the bench and for heads of departments.  The Dems did it to W as well, but not even close to as much as the Reps have done it to Obama.

Second, I think it is terrible that the Dems did this.  The good news is that the filibuster has only been eliminated for presidential appointees, and not for normal legislation.  The point of the filibuster has been to make the Senate different than the House.  In the House, the majority rules, period.  The minority might as well not even show up.  What the majority wants to pass, they pass.  An example is the Republican led House, dominated by a Tea Party bloc, has passed over 40 bills to repeal Obamacare.  With no Dem votes needed or paid attention to.  If the Senate does away with the filibuster altogether, it becomes another House of Representatives and the majority just passes whatever it wants to if they stay together.  This allows a party in power of each house to pass only hyper-partisan, ideologically pure laws.  This is already happening in the House.  No compromise, just ideological purity.  

The big issue is partisan warfare.  In the House, the war is total.  The Reps are totally dedicated to stopping any and all things the Dems want.  In the Senate, the war is almost as total, and the filibuster allowed the Reps to be almost as obstructionist as the Reps in the House.

Eliminating the filibuster allows the president to nominate more ideologically extreme judges and department heads because he won't need any votes from the opposition party.  You can say Obama never got votes from the Reps anyhow, but the world turns and time passes and this now becomes an institutional push toward more and more judges and department heads who are deeply entrenched in the ideological wars of the president and the majority party.

I hope that Obama treads lightly here, and does not appoint left wing extremists as judges and as department and cabinet heads.  If he can restrain himself and nominate candidates that he can truthfully say are more centrist and professional and would be able to get some opposition party votes if the partisan warfare weren't at such a fevered pitch, then he can help tamp down some of the future partisanship that is possible to come as a result of the new filibuster rules.  

But, if he takes this opportunity to stack the courts and appointments with left wing nutcases, he will pour gasoline on the partisan fires.