Nu­clear war­fare in the Se­nate

Chang­ing fil­i­buster rules likely to ‘poi­son the at­mos­phere’ for a long time

The Washington Times Daily - - Editorial -

Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Harry Reid leaped be­yond the point of no re­turn on Thurs­day. Ma­jor­ity lead­ers in the past toyed with the idea of strip­ping the mi­nor­ity party of the fil­i­buster, but they al­ways pulled back when a cooler head pre­vailed. Not the se­na­tor from Las Ve­gas, who det­o­nated the “nu­clear op­tion” and ended hope of col­le­gial­ity re­turn­ing to Capi­tol Hill for a very long time.

The ma­neu­ver clears the way for Democrats to force through the most rad­i­cal of Pres­i­dent Obama’s ex­ec­u­tive and ju­di­cial nom­i­nees, at the price of Se­nate tra­di­tion and the like­li­hood of the leg­isla­tive process mov­ing for­ward. The most prom­i­nent of Democrats agreed with this as­sess­ment in 2005, when ma­jor­ity Repub­li­cans threat­ened to drop the bomb on Democrats.

“If the right of free and open de­bate is taken away from the mi­nor­ity party and the mil­lions of Amer­i­cans who ask us to be their voice,” the young Sen. Barack Obama warned darkly at that not-so-dis­tant time, “I fear the al­ready poi­soned at­mos­phere in Wash­ing­ton will be poi­soned to the point where no one will be able to agree on any­thing.”

Joe Bi­den, then a se­na­tor from Delaware, dropped to his knees in prayer. “I pray to God,” he said, though it was not clear whether he was ad­dress­ing his plea to the almighty or merely his Repub­li­can col­leagues, “that when the Democrats take back con­trol we don’t make the kind of naked power grab you are do­ing.” Mr. Reid, then a mere mi­nor­ity leader un­able to go nu­clear, went po­etic. “The fil­i­buster is far from a pro­ce­dural gim­mick,” he said. “It’s part of the fab­ric of this in­sti­tu­tion we call the Se­nate.” On Thurs­day, no longer sore afraid, he rent the fab­ric.

The Found­ing Fa­thers en­vi­sioned the Se­nate as a “cool­ing saucer” for heated ide­o­log­i­cal is­sues, not as ground zero for scorch­ing the earth. Mr. Reid has no pa­tience with cool heads. He wants to put three ex­trem­ist judges on the U.S. Court of Ap­peals for the Dis­trict of Columbia Cir­cuit while he can. Th­ese nom­i­na­tions have been blocked for four weeks by Repub­li­can se­na­tors. Hav­ing th­ese rad­i­cal left-wing judges on the bench is key to win­ning Mr. Obama’s ex­trem­ist agenda. The pres­i­dent him­self said so at a Texas party fundraiser ear­lier this month, where he re­ferred to rul­ings “that ul­ti­mately are go­ing to be made about women’s re­pro­duc­tive health [and] about how we treat our gay and les­bian brothers and sis­ters.”

Mr. Obama and Mr. Reid share the “my way, or the high­way” strat­egy of re­fus­ing to ne­go­ti­ate with the mi­nor­ity party. Mr. Obama shut down the gov­ern­ment rather than agree to a tem­po­rary de­lay of his Oba­macare, which Mr. Reid guided through the Se­nate with­out a sin­gle Repub­li­can vote.

Mr. Reid’s par­ti­san­ship, now on full dis­play, spells trou­ble for a cru­cial hand­ful of red-state Se­nate Democrats, all but two of whom — Mark L. Pryor of Arkansas and Joe Manchin III of West Vir­ginia — sup­ported the nu­clear op­tion. Mr. Pryor, who faces a dif­fi­cult re-elec­tion cam­paign, moved swiftly to the side of the an­gels at home. “To­day’s use of the ‘nu­clear op­tion’ could per­ma­nently dam­age the Se­nate and have neg­a­tive ram­i­fi­ca­tions for the Amer­i­can peo­ple,” he said.

Mr. Reid may lack the skill or cool judg­ment for Se­nate lead­er­ship, but his prospec­tive suc­ces­sors, Richard J. Durbin of Illi­nois or Chuck Schumer of New York, prom­ise to be no bet­ter. The pres­i­dent and the ma­jor­ity leader talk a lot about ci­vil­ity and bi­par­ti­san­ship, but in the end, they prac­tice abuse of those who dis­agree with them. Vot­ers must re­mem­ber this on judg­ment day next Novem­ber.

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