Our Opinion: Going nuclear


Listening to sad sack Mitch McConnell decry milquetoast Harry Reid's implementation of the "nuclear option" to prevent Republicans from stonewalling presidential appointees is like being invited to observe a slap fight between two middle-schoolers. We wish somebody would tell both of them their oratorical styles do nothing to inspire confidence in their leadership.

But leaving aside critiques of their styles, the Reformer applauds Majority Leader Reid and Senate President pro tempore Patrick Leahy for finally pulling the trigger on the "nuclear option." Our only complaint is that it wasn't done sooner.

During the entire eight years of George W. Bush's term, Democrats mounted filibusters on 38 of his nominees. Since President Obama took office, Republicans have filibustered his nominees 81 times.

"Not only do these filibusters hinder the work of a wide range of agencies and departments, they are also part of a larger Republican agenda to nullify existing laws through obstruction," noted People for the American Way, in an analysis documenting the unprecedented use of filibusters by Republicans since Obama took office.

"For all practical purposes, Republicans had declared war on Obama's very legitimacy as president, forbidding him from carrying out a core constitutional duty," wrote Kevin Drum, for Mother Jones.

But that's been the Republican tactic since Ronald Reagan declared government is not the solution to the problem, "Government is the problem."

Since then, Republicans have attempted to prove Reagan's campaign rhetoric by legislatively and administratively hobbling the federal government, then proclaiming "See, we told ya so." Rather than make government more efficient and effective, they broke its legs and then said it couldn't walk. Their filibustering of Obama's nominees was just one tactic in keeping the government on its knees.

And if you need any more proof of conservative hypocrisy, while right-wing pundits are decrying the use of the "nuclear option," Media Matters was quick to point out that in the mid-2000s, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal, National Review Editor Rich Lowry, Karl Rove, Bill Kristol, Pat Robertson and Thomas Sowell all whined about the Democrats using the filibuster to block Bush appointees.

As former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich said, Republican extremism should no longer be allowed to destroy our democracy.

"Republicans brought on this rule change by abusing the process -- refusing to confirm almost every judge Obama has nominated, including his last four nominees to the all-important District of Columbia Circuit, on pure political grounds rather than on merit," he noted.

As might be expected, President Obama applauded the move.

"A deliberate and determined effort to obstruct everything just to refight the results of an election is just not normal," he said. "And for the sake of future generations we can't let it become normal."

Three Democrats who voted against changing the rules warned that if and when Republicans retake control of the Senate, the shoe will be on the other foot and they will take advantage of the change to ram through their own neo-Reagan policies.

But we can't worry about some hypothetical tomorrow while Republicans do their best to stymie all things Obama. Nearly 70 million of us voted to return the president to the White House in November 2012, and with that, the understanding that we prefer his agenda over the Tea Party's.

And for those who are gnashing their teeth and flagellating themselves that it will now become "a tyranny of the majority," we remind you that the rule change does nothing to streamline the meat grinder that presidential nominees must be run through. It's true that federal judge nominees and executive-office appointments can now be confirmed by a simple majority of senators, rather than the 60-vote super-majority that has been required for more than two centuries, but, noted Jonathan Weisman for the New York Times, "Republicans may not be able to muster the votes to block Democrats on procedure, but they can force every nomination into days of debate between every procedural vote in the Senate book -- of which there will be many. And legislation, at least for now, is still very much subject to the filibuster. On Thursday afternoon, as one Republican after another went to the Senate floor to lament the end of one type of filibuster, they voted against cutting off debate on the annual defense policy bill, a measure that has passed with bipartisan support every year for decades."

You can call the action by the Senate Democrats extreme, but they have been forced into a corner by extremists. It's sad that it took them five years to take action, given that the Republicans, from Day 1 of the Obama Administration, have fought tooth and nail to prevent him from fulfilling much of the mandate given to him by the American public in 2008. Nonetheless, we are pleased the Democrats did what needed to be done. Perhaps now they can accomplish some of the work we sent them to take care of in Washington, D.C.


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