On Thursday, Senate Democrats followed through on their oft-threatened plan and invoked the “nuclear option,” ending filibusters for presidential appointments and most judicial nominations. Nominees will now require a simple majority vote for confirmation. While many on the left applaud the move by Senate Democrats, the rule change is a clear sign of the caucus’s weakening position.
The Senate filibuster rule is not something spelled out in the Constitution. In many respects it is a quirk, arising out of Aaron Burr’s successful attempt to eliminate the “move the previous question” procedure in the Senate. Quirk or not, it has been the operating rule in the Senate for more than two centuries. Administrations from both parties have had to live by the rule, forcing them to pick nominees that could win bi-partisan support.
This week, Senate Democrats, however, faced with an increasingly unfavorable political climate, decided they had had enough of these long-standing rules. Utilizing a simple majority vote, the Senate Democrats forever ended the requirement that presidential appointments receive 60 votes in the Senate. From now on, a simple partisan vote is enough to win confirmation. The mind reels at how quickly Democrats will change their view when a Republican is elected President.
Political observers are wringing their hands over what is described as either a preservation or subversion of Democracy. Both cases are overstated. Few in the public pay attention to the inner workings of Congress or the Senate’s rather bizarre set of rules. Whether some kind of super-majority should necessarily apply to all Senate actions is an open question. What isn’t in doubt, however, is the political pressure that spurred the action by the Senate Democrats. They made a decision to upend decades of Senate rules because a handful of nominations were stalled.
Never has such a significant rule change been made for stakes that are so low.
The move by Senate Democrats is nothing more than a temper tantrum. For weeks they have weathered withering attacks on the disastrous rollout of ObamaCare. As many of the assurances they made during the debate over the law are revealed to be lies, an increasing number of Senate Democrats feel their political futures are in jeopardy.
Like a cornered cat, Senate Democrats decided to lash out at the nearest thing that moved. They eliminated the filibuster in response to increasing political pressure and their declining electoral fortunes. The move gives them a fleeting reassurance that they are still in charge. Our poll numbers may be declining, they think, but we can still exert power when we need to.
The Senate Democrats can force through a rule change to help Obama’s appointments. They can’t, however, change the fact that ObamaCare is exerting a negative gravitational pull over the country and the economy. A simple majority, or even a filibuster-proof vote won’t alter the coming electoral reckoning.