Republicans remain furious Senate Democrats chose to introduce some sanity into the upper chamber by altering the archaic rules for filibusters. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., called it “a power grab.” No Senator, the power grab occurred in 2012, when Americans decided they’d rather have Barack Obama remain their president in an Electoral College landslide than turn over the White House to your guy.
What’s more, by implication, they expected Obama to be able to appoint judges, cabinet members and other executive nominees and carry out his legislative platform without petty procedural hurdles thrown at him by a bunch of dead-enders.
Senate rules had permitted the minority the right to hold-up debate on legislation and nominations until the majority could amass a super-majority, most recently three-fifths or 60 votes, to override them. The new rule allows debate on appointments — but not for legislation or nominees to the Supreme Court — to proceed with a simple majority of 51 votes.
The Founders never intended that a minority should bring Senate business to a grinding halt. This is not about stifling opposition; it’s about allowing the majority to accomplish what the voters wanted accomplished.
For the last century, it pretty much worked that way except for the most controversial issues and candidates. But since President Obama took office, Senate Republicans have tortured the filibuster privilege. Of the 168 filibusters of all presidential nominees in the history of the Senate, half have occurred since 2009.
One hundred and fifty-one of Obama’s executive and judicial nominees have waited an average of 124 days for confirmation, compared to about 40 days for George W. Bush’s nominees. Given Republican stalling tactics, many ultimately withdrew their names from consideration. Democrats filibustered seven of Bush’s top nominees in eight years. Republicans filibustered 27 of Obama’s in five.
It’s not just that the number of filibusters has risen dramatically during Obama’s time in office; it’s that a 60-vote majority was no longer the exception but was required for just about anything the Senate undertook. And it no longer entailed talking for hours to an empty chamber. It simply became a standing threat requiring Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to round up 60 votes to begin debate on anything. In numerous cases, Reid didn’t even attempt to bring forward legislation.
The decision to press the button on the so-called nuclear option setting cloture — a vote to cut off debate — to 51 votes was the result of unprecedented Republican obstructionism, not because of any disqualifying character issues of the nominees, but rather to undermine programs and agencies already in existence and to unduly influence the make-up of lower courts. For instance, Republicans delayed for two years the appointment of Richard Cordray to head the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau because they and their banker friends loath the idea of government protecting consumers.
Presidents — any president — should be able to install their appointees without severely partisan obstructionism and archaic rules. That’s how the constitutional separation of powers was meant to work.
Marty Moore is a freelance writer living in Port Richey.