Democrats in the Senate finally ended their long-held bluff to "reform the filibuster" on Thursday after Majority Leader Harry Reid pushed through a rules change—the so-called "nuclear option"—ending the ability of the minority of Republicans to hold up President Obama's political and judicial appointments.
As The Hill reports:
The Senate voted Thursday to change its rules to prevent the minority party from filibustering any nominations other than nods to the Supreme Court.
The change was approved after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) triggered the “nuclear option,” which allows a change to Senate rules by majority vote.
The 52-48 vote dramatically changes the rules of the Senate and limits the minority party's ability to prevent confirmation of presidential nominees. Sens. Carl Levin (Mich.), Mark Pryor (Ark.) and Joe Manchin (W.Va.) were the only Democrats to vote against Reid's rules change.
It will allow all three of President Obama's nominees to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals to go forward, as well as his nomination of Rep. Mel Watt to lead a housing regulatory agency.
Reid said the change was necessary to get the Senate working again.
“It’s time to change the Senate before this institution becomes obsolete,” Reid said on the Senate floor.
The question that remains, however—even for those who agree that the upper chamber has become severly dysfunctional in the modern era—why now? Or more importantly—for what?
For progressives, the filibuster reform is a move in the right direction but not nearly enough.
"It should be clear to everyone all past and possibly future complaining about not being able to do something because of a filibuster threat is total nonsense." –Jon Walker, FDL
Having failed to fulfill his threat to change the rules on three separate occasions during the last four years despite the unprecedented level of obstruction and abuse of the filibuster, Reid's decision to employ the "nuclear option"—but only for nominees and appointments—seemed strange to some.
As The Nation's John Nichols tweeted:
— John Nichols (@NicholsUprising) November 21, 2013
Karen Hobert Flynn, senior vice president for strategy and programs at Common Cause, welcomed the development as progress but also said Reid's push to reform the Senate rule around the filibuster should go further.
“We’ve all been watching a slow-motion government shutdown for years, and this will enable the important work of reviewing and confirming presidential nominations to get moving again,” said Flynn.
But, she added, "the Senate is still broken and the rule change today is a small fix for a huge problem. The minority still has the power to use the filibuster to block debate and action on legislation favored by the majority. As Majority Leader Reid observed on the Senate floor this morning, ‘the need for change is so, so, very obvious.’”
And as policy analyst Jon Walker adds at FireDogLake:
This was not the complete destruction of the filibuster in the Senate but this very well could be the beginning of the end for this absurd practice. Technically, it only applies to most nominees — it doesn’t cover the nominees to the Supreme Court– but what is really important is that a precedent has been set.
Democrats finally proved they are willing and able to stop obstructionism. They also showed the media, donors, and activists how quickly and easily the Senate rules can be changed. It should be clear to everyone all past and possibly future complaining about not being able to do something because of a filibuster threat is total nonsense.
Now the Democrats have proved they are willing and able to change the rules, there is nothing stopping them they from using it in the future for legislation or the Supreme Court. Similarly, there is no reason for Republicans to hold back if they ever gain control of the chamber. They already threatened to do this same thing when they were in control just a few years ago.
The Senate has taken a big step towards functioning as it was designed to, with most issues decided by an up-or-down vote. The stupid 60 vote threshold is not dead yet but it has been seriously wounded.