The Other "Nuclear Option"

November 24, 2013

This week, the Senate passed a bill so labelled by some. It simply reduced the number of Senators required to prevent filibusters, or to require an “up-down” vote without delay, from 60 to 51. At the present time, this assures the Democratic majority in the 100 member Senate, that if the Democratic party holds together on such matters as appointments to judgeships, there will be a positive vote–i.e. Democrats will be able to fill critically important judgeships with judges of their liking–presumably of a more liberal persuasion.

This is a proper bill to pass. It is a proper step toward reducing partisan gridlock in our Congress.

There can be little doubt about its value–both parties have argued for such a measure when in majority and both have argued against it when in minority position. It simply cannot be imagined that the Republicans would not have done the same, had they the Senate majority at this time–and similarly, it cannot be imagined they have such “principle” around this rule of order that they will reverse it when they next have the majority.

The main argument is that this allows the majority (in the Senate) to decide, that this will result in a swing, like a pendulum, for whichever party has the majority. That is true, but isn’t that the way many other democracies in the world work–essentially a government is “formed” after election, such that there is a majority of votes to enact most important legislation around which this elected and “formed” majority can reach agreement. This enables action to be taken, movement, hopefully progress, and if not, the next government can change it.

For example, many of us did not agree with the austerity measures enacted by the the combined majority of David Cameron’s Conservatives and Nick Klegg’s Liberal Democrats. This may have been a pendulum swing to the right, and it may be swung back by the next majority party or combined formed majority. However, it is not gridlock, as we have seen in the US, where it seems nothing can be done. Our Federal Reserve has been the main engine of the economic recovery here, with fiscal policy (after a few crisis measures–bailouts and one stimulus program) being sidelined over inability to agree on tax reductions and spending reductions.  The debate between the Keynesians and the Friedmans, et. al., has resulted in no action.

So, this bill is both fair and is good.

What’s most interesting about the aftermath of it is that the politicians on the right have reacted vehemently, as if some capital crime has been created, as if they forget they wanted this when last in power, but couldn’t get it done. The have threatened retaliation.

This is both insulting to the intelligence of the American people, and disgusting. Insulting because we are smart enough to know both parties want this if they have the power to get it. It’s not some kind of sacrosanct rule. Filibustering? How can that be defended? Ted Cruz would want this bill if he had a majority in the Senate–God forbid!

Disgusting because the threats issued by some of the most senior Republicans exposes the worst element of our political system–if I can’t have it my way, I’ll do everything I can to prevent any progress. This attitude has been consistently apparent in the attack on “Obamacare.” Why not join with Democrats in constructive ways to alter and fix the health care system? The answer appears to be that you’d rather see it fail than be fixed–you’d rather avoid being somehow “tarnished” by joining in to support something. And/or you’re just too beholden to the ultraconservative factions that have arisen in the Republican party.

John McCain, who deserves great appreciation for his service to our country, lowers himself when he threatens “a heavy, heavy price” to be levied as punishment to the Democrats for exercising this privilege of their majority vote. And, he insults us by saying “I don’t think Americans understand it very well.”

We understand this very well. It’s abundantly clear.

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