It’s been called the “nuclear option,” presumably because a decision to change the filibuster rules of the U.S. Senate would be so big, so historic and politically so consequential.
And today’s decision IS a huge deal, as Ezra Klein in his Wonkblog in the Washington Post explains. Most of all, the decision by the Democratic majority in the Senate is about democracy. Tired of the Republican minority’s obstructionist behavior through the filibuster, which has paralyzed the upper body of the U.S. Congress, the Democrats, with 52 votes to 48, said enough! Three Democrats, Carl Levin of Michigan, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Mark Pryor of Arkansas voted with the Republicans, while the two Independents, Angus King of Maine and Bernard Sanders of Vermont, supported the Democrats.
Finally, simple majority will rule in the US Senate, just like it should in a democracy and just like it does in other democracies, whether the political power lies with a majority of twenty votes or one. A majority is a majority.
The filibuster rule, that it takes 60 votes for decisions in the Senate, is not a written rule. It is not in the Constitution, and it was for decades seldom used. However, from 1967 to 2012, according to the Congressional Research Service cited by the Washington Post, majority leaders had to file motions to try to break a filibuster of a judicial nominee 67 times — and 31 of those, more than 46 percent — occurred in the five years with Obama in the White House and a Democratic majority, although not a 60-vote super majority, in the Senate.
The filibuster rule change means that the President’s federal judge nominees and executive-office appointments now can be confirmed by a simple majority rather than by the super majority that has been required for more than two centuries. However, there are two important exception: it will still take 60 votes to confirm a nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court and the filibuster can still be used on legislation.
Words of approval from the White House were heard after the vote. Now, President Obama can get his three nominees approved to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, often called the second most powerful federal court in the country. From the Republicans in the Senate only howls of protests were heard.
“It’s time to change. It’s time to change the Senate before this institution becomes obsolete,” said the Senate’s Democratic majority leader Harry Reid.
Yes, it was the right thing to do!