United States Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said enough is enough with Republican Party obstruction, and made a landmark change to the U.S. Senate rules. PHOTO: Reuters
Filibuster reform is here at last. The United States Senate, an institution known for changing at the same rate as a stopped clock, made a monumental change to how it does business, as Senate Democrats, led by Harry Reid (D-Nev.), finally decided to do something about the endless obstruction by the Republican Party.
What is filibuster reform?
Glad you asked. The Senate, with its rules from an era where senators actually listened to each other and had debates, has a rule that 60 votes are needed to end debate if any senator requests that debate should continue. Today, senators mostly “debate” for the television cameras while their colleagues fundraise, but the rule remains in place: a bill cannot come to a final vote (when it needs only 51 votes to pass) if fewer than 60 senators refuse to vote to end debate.
That’s the filibuster part, what’s the reform?
I was getting to that. Today, Harry Reid called for a vote to change the Senate rules so that there is no longer a 60 vote threshold for judicial nominees (Supreme Court nominees can still be filibustered) and presidential appointees. This includes Obama’s appointees to the highest appeals court (one step below the Supreme Court), which the Republican Party has blocked, and cabinet positions, like the head of the Environmental Protection Agency.
Why did the Democrats do this?
Harry Reid was finally pushed to the edge by the Republican Party practice of blocking Obama nominees that they had no personal issue with. They just wanted to deny Obama these appointments. For a long time, the Republican Party would not allow the appointment of anyone to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, because they didn’t like that the CFPB exists in the first place. The final straw, however was over judicial nominees. The federal appeals court has 11 spots for judges, but there are currently three vacancies, and the Republican Party resolved to not allow any Obama appointees onto that court, just because they don’t like Obama, and they would rather just deny deny deny until a Republican is president.
How mad is the Republican Party right now?
The Republican Party is furious about filibuster reform. Republican Party Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) responded to the news with dark and ominous words:
“You’ll regret this and you might regret it even sooner than you might think.”
Both sides have threatened the “nuclear option” as it’s called, but last minute deals were struck each time to ward this off. John McCain, who was always a big part of those last minute deals, visited Harry Reid before the vote, but Reid could not be convinced.
“It’s time to change the Senate before this institution becomes obsolete,” Reid said on the Senate floor. ““The need for change is so, so very obvious.”
Is this good news?
Yes, this is excellent news. The filibuster used to be quite rare. A total of four presidential nominees from Eisenhower through the first President Bush were filibustered. Clinton endured 9 Republican Party filibusters, Bush II took 7 from the Democrats, and under Obama, filibusters only happen on days that end in “Y.” So far he’s had 16, with more in the pipeline.
Wait, what was Mitch McConnell talking about with his ominous threatening quote?
Probably the next Supreme Court nominee. Democrats still need 5 Republican Senators to vote to block a filibuster for Supreme Court nominees, and there will likely be at least one vacancy while Obama is in office. With the Republican Party steaming mad, McConnell may have the momentum to force a block on confirming any nominee, no matter how uncontroversial.