The Democrats have made a change to Senate rules: now, it is no longer possible to filibuster confirmation of Presidential appointees. The Associated Press article says:
Sweeping aside a century of precedent, Democrats took a chunk out of the Senate’s hallowed filibuster tradition on Thursday and cleared the way for speedy confirmation of controversial appointments made by President Barack Obama and chief executives in the future.
That phrasing strikes me as odd, especially the use of the word “hallowed”. Seems slanted against the Democrats. Senator Reid seems to me to have been fairly reluctant to do this, and only finally did after having his hand more or less forced by the Republicans.
That said, I don’t like the decision. I understand why they did it, and from a short-term view, it makes sense. But it is true that they may come to regret it in the future, as the Republicans are saying. (Unless, I guess, the Democrats change it back during the lame-duck session if they are voted out.)
Still, the Republicans are acting like the Democrats just did this for no reason, and not because the Republicans have been filibustering appointments for no reason. Which, technically, they are allowed to do, but they are violating the spirit, if not the word, of the Senate rules.
So, it’s a real dilemma. An insoluble one, perhaps. The Republicans’ casual use of the filibuster has caused a breakdown in the functioning of government. And the only thing the Democrats could think of to fix it was to break the functioning of government in a different way. It is a bad trend. It bespeaks a downward spiral in how the Senate works.
James Fallows at The Atlantic wrote a post on his blog called “5 Signs the United States is Undergoing a Coup“. Then he thought better of it, and changed it to “5 Signs of a Radical Change in U.S. Politics”. Here are the signs:
- First, a presidential election is decided by five people, who don’t even try to explain their choice in normal legal terms.
- Then the beneficiary of that decision appoints the next two members of the court, who present themselves for consideration as restrained, humble figures who care only about law rather than ideology.
- Once on the bench, for life, those two actively second-guess and re-do existing law, to advance the interests of the party that appointed them.
- Meanwhile their party’s representatives in the Senate abuse procedural rules to an extent never previously seen to block legislation — and appointments, especially to the courts.
- And, when a major piece of legislation gets through, the party’s majority on the Supreme Court prepares to negate it — even though the details of the plan were originally Republican proposals and even though the party’s presidential nominee endorsed these concepts only a few years ago.
Well, the “coup” headline was quite wrong. This isn’t a “coup”, because it doesn’t involve the military, it is non-violent, and it is worked just by using the existing system. The “radical change” headline is true, but generic and silly. There are lots of radical changes in U.S. politics; what makes this one important?
For, make no mistake, it is important. But it isn’t a coup. It is nothing more or less than one political party working the system to its own advantage. Or, as Charlie Sheen would say, “winning!” The Republicans aren’t breaking the rules, they’re just bending them as much as they can to favor their side. The filibuster is a perfect example: there’s nothing that says you can’t filibuster everything; you just aren’t supposed to. Likewise, there’s nothing that says the Supreme Court can’t make decisions purely in the interests of its preferred party–indeed, you could never prove they were doing that, as it would require telepathy–they just aren’t supposed to. It’s hard to believe that no one noticed these massive loopholes sooner.