The U.S. Senate’s filibuster rules should have been nuked nearly a decade ago.
The long-abused procedure, which requires roughly two-thirds support to move forward on just about any matter, could be dialed back as soon as today. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., appears ready to launch the so-called “nuclear option” by ending the minority’s ability to block nominees to executive branch posts. Hallelujah.
The filibuster is supposed to be a last resort, a tool to force extended deliberation on dramatic ideas. It’s supposed to force senators to the floor to speak for hours or days to prevent votes all lawmakers might come to regret. In more recent years, however, a filibuster has been achieved simply through threats and vote-counting. Debate seldom results.
The filibuster is particularly poisonous when deployed to halt executive branch nominations. The president should be able to get confirmation votes on his choices for Cabinet posts, agency leadership jobs and judicial positions. If senators wish to reject a nominee, they can accomplish that through a simple majority vote.
But filibusters happen all the time these days — on legislation and nominees — thanks in large part to Sen. Reid. When he was minority leader, he regularly used the filibuster to block President George W. Bush’s nominations and the GOP agenda. After Sen. Reid held up an entire slate of judicial nominees, Republican leaders were prepared to go nuclear and abolish such filibusters.
In 2005, Sen. Reid gave a stirring defense of the filibuster: “It encourages moderation and consensus,” he said. “It gives voice to the minority, so that cooler heads may prevail. ... And it is very much in keeping with the spirit of the government established by the framers of our Constitution: limited government, separation of powers, checks and balances. ... The filibuster is a critical tool in keeping the majority in check.”
Moderate senators struck a deal to preserve the filibuster and allow votes on some Bush nominees, prompting Sen. Reid to proclaim: “The nuclear option is gone for our lifetime.”
Since he became majority leader, however, Sen. Reid has been less fond of the filibuster. Republicans have used his playbook against him, especially on President Barack Obama’s executive nominees. Sen. Reid says the GOP has taken the filibuster to extremes he never entertained. Republicans claim Sen. Reid runs the chamber in bad faith, denying them the ability to introduce amendments.
Regardless of why so many filibusters take place, it’s past time to reform the rules that allow them. Require floor speeches and debate. Make senators take their rhetoric beyond talking points and prove their intellect worthy of office. Give the president’s nominations timely up-or-down votes.
Most importantly, keep the rules the same going forward, regardless of which party is in the Senate majority and which party wins the presidency.
The Review-Journal and Sen. Reid are in full agreement. But Sen. Reid and Democrats can’t have it both ways.