Harry Reid's "Nuclear Option"

He wants to override the filibuster, and that's a dangerous move.


You know what would make life a lot easier? A direct democracy.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, the man who once argued that weakening the Senate filibuster would "destroy the very checks and balances our Founding Fathers put in place to prevent absolute power by any one branch of government," is supposedly ready to use the "nuclear option." It would allow a simple majority to change rules to overcome a filibuster. And no matter how narrow Reid says the scope of his power grab would be, in the long run, it would kill the filibuster, and he knows it.

Why now? Well, Reid claims that Republicans have engaged in "unprecedented" obstructionism. Here's how Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon explained the Democrats' reasoning to The New York Times: Republicans, he alleges, "are going to disable the executive branch if a minority of the Senate disagrees with or dislikes the president the people elect. It's come into a realm where it's just unacceptable because if the executive branch can't function, then the nation can't respond to the big challenges it faces."

Since attaining power, Senate Democrats, powerless to face America's "big challenges," have passed a nearly trillion-dollar stimulus bill, a bill to reform the entire health care system, far-reaching immigration legislation that would create tens of millions of new citizens and a mass of regulations that would reform the entire financial sector. Oh, and the president has appointed two Supreme Court justices with almost no genuine opposition.

Republicans must be the most inept obstructionists of all time.

Perhaps Merkley is under the impression that a constitutional mandate compels the GOP to ensure that a far-left-wing populist is running the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (which didn't even exist until 2011) or the National Labor Relations Board. Maybe he believes that Republicans are under an obligation to provide him with acceptable philosophical reasons to oppose nominees and legislation. Neither of those is a prerequisite for filibustering.

Merkley and Reid are the ones, in fact, creating arbitrary boundaries for the filibuster—which has been increasingly used by both parties over the past decade—because they dislike and disagree with the reasoning of the minority. After all, if the executive branch "can't function," how on earth is the president creating millions of jobs, saving the planet from climate change and fighting for gay marriage and DREAMers and you?

Should Republicans be using the filibuster (or the threat of it) as often as they are? That's up for debate. I happen to believe it's overused. Maybe they'll pay a political price.

As for Reid, the threat of filibuster reform may well be politics, a bluff meant to bring attention to these saboteurs of progress in the Senate. But for many activists pushing Democrats, it's about a lot more. Though both parties detest the filibuster when in power, progressives hold an enduring contempt for it because they hold an enduring contempt for federalism in general. A more majoritarian process makes it easier to cash in on fleeting public sentiments and steamroll an array of comprehensive "reforms" to impel even the most reactionary states to partner up with Washington.

The federal government has been able to dictate, cajole and blackmail states into participating in nearly every legislative effort—from highway bills to welfare expansions to Obamacare. That's one of the benefits of open-ended deficit spending. You're always loaded. A filibuster forces real compromise and protects the smaller states. We're built for evolutionary, not revolutionary, change. The filibuster slows things down. That fact drives those embarked on a self-proclaimed mission to remake the nation a bit restless, a bit too eager to deploy absurd arguments and, perhaps, prepared to abuse their power. We'll see soon enough.

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  1. Is the “nuclear option” placing Reid and 99% of Congress on a nuclear testing field and dropping our largest bombs? Because I’m totally in favor of that nuclear option.

  2. They can’t get anything done since BUUUUSH still occupies the White House.
    5 years and counting and Obozo still can’t get the guy to move out.

  3. You’d think an experienced hand like Reid would better understand how the game works. You’d also think the Dems would understand that it is quite possible that in 2016, team RED might control the House, Senate, and White House and the filibuster is the only thing thing that could impede a whole bunch of Team RED legislation they don’t like. On the other hand, you’d think Reid would have understood that concept before he abused reconciliation to pass Obamacare. Which one is the party of stupid again?

    1. “Which one is the party of stupid again?”

      I’m going with the purple one!

  4. It’s going to be difficult to credibly blame Republican obstructionism for your failings if you take away the ability to obstruct.

    1. Well they’d get their nominees through. They would of course be wise not to end the filibuster for normal legislation until the House is in Dem hands.

  5. I do not buy for a second the argument that Dems setting a precedent will dictate future Republican behavior. If the GOP gets a majority in the Senate I will put real money on the prediction that the instant Dems start to obstruct via the filibuster, the GOP will go nuclear.

    Every single move and bit of rhetoric coming from McConnell and the entire Congressional GOP caucus amounts to “give us everything we want and nothing else, the end.”

    1. “Every single move and bit of rhetoric coming from McConnell and the entire Congressional GOP caucus amounts to “give us everything we want and nothing else, the end.””

      Yes, shithead?

      1. And that’s not how governing works? Especially when the country rejected you in the last election?

        1. Tony| 7.12.13 @ 5:32PM |#
          “And that’s not how governing works? Especially when the country rejected you in the last election?”

          You really posted that? Hitting the sauce a bit early?
          Because Obozo got 50+% of the vote, the opposition is supposed to fold up and go home?
          They are The Opposition; the oppose the crap that Obozo proposes.

          1. They aren’t supposed to rule, though. I don’t blame them for exploiting the rules to subvert the purpose of democratic governance, but it’s odd that such a morally upstanding absolutist as yourself would tolerate it. And I won’t blame the Dems for fixing the problem.

            1. That’s quite a change of tune. One the one hand, you propose that “might makes right”, “what the government authorizes is legal and good”, “it’s only bad if it violates the constitution”, etc.

              It would be totally contradictory for you to think that Republicans are doing something immoral, or wrong. The constitution says that the senate can make its own rules. The filibuster is a senate rule. It’s government authorized. The government doesn’t consider it a problem. So why whine about democratic subversion, “gentlemanliness of legislating”, “abuse” of the filibuster, etc? It’s not like there’s some standard, outside of government, to apply. You reject those (when it suits you).

              Any problem you have with it is arbitrary, based on tautology, etc. Or do you have more special pleading exceptions that always curve towards the favor of Democrats?

              1. I don’t know, I’m overtly partisan, what is your excuse for stroking Republican cock by defending unprecedented and arbitrary abuse of rules for no purpose other than Republicans getting their way?

                1. Oh, I don’t make excuses. The preceding excuses are just various excuses you have used to justify the government: i.e., the government is self-legitimizing, the right to enforce is the only right that matters, etc.

                  Personally, I don’t really care. As I point out below, whining about the filibuster as essential to checks and balances is just bullshit that Harry Reid pulls out when convenient, and previous bullshit he ignores, when convenient. I’m sure that, in 2005, you felt that the filibuster was essential to democracy and a correct functioning of the senate. And now, it’s causing a dysfunctional legislature and is unconstitutional, even though its constitutional. Whatever.

                  By your own, previous arguments, the best you can do is claim to subjectively prefer getting rid of the filibuster, this year. Whining about abuse of rules and “getting their way” is totally inconsistent with any of your previous arguments for supporting government power.

        2. Really? Winning a majority of the House seats, again, and staying even in the Senate is being ‘rejected’?

          Clearly in your world, War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, and Ignorance is Strength.

          1. More people voted for House Democrats than House Republicans. They kept the majority via gerrymandering. And the people reelected the president in the only actual national election. Whatever that is, it’s not a mandate for everything the Republicans want and nothing else.

            1. A Democrat, whining to a Libertarian about gerrymandering. Ironic.

    2. You must be another winning product of the Chicago Public School system,

      “The maneuver was brought to prominence in 2005 when Majority Leader Bill Frist (Republican of Tennessee) threatened its use to end Democratic-led filibusters of judicial nominees submitted by President George W. Bush. In response to this threat, Democrats threatened to shut down the Senate and prevent consideration of all routine and legislative Senate business. The ultimate confrontation was prevented by the Gang of 14, a group of seven Democratic and seven Republican Senators, all of whom agreed to oppose the nuclear option and oppose filibusters of judicial nominees, except in extraordinary circumstances.

      The nuclear option was raised again following the congressional elections of 2012, this time with Senate Democrats in the majority (but short of a supermajority).”

      Democrats were screaming bloody murder about the nuclear option when the Republicans had total control. Now the Republicans are being obstructionists and the Democrats have to nuke the Senate in order to save it.

      Where have I heard this sort of flip-flopping before? Oh yes, NSA surveillance. Oddly enough Democrats are in favor of Big Brother now that the Anxious One(tm) occupies 1600 Penn. Ave. Team Blue is nothing but a mob.

      1. Yes parties in the majority tend to hate the filibuster and minority parties tend to like it. Both parties are absolutely hypocrites in this matter.

        Except Democrats were willing to bend on any number of issues and the gang of 14 managed to prevent the change. Republicans filibuster everything–totally unprecedented, totally non-constitutional. Pure cynical manipulation of rules. Something’s gotta give at some point. The senate was never intended to work this way, and for good reason.

        1. filibuster everything–totally unprecedented, totally non-constitutional. Pure cynical manipulation of rules. Something’s gotta give at some point. The senate was never intended to work this way, and for good reason.

          That would be convincing, except I remember hearing the exact same shit about 8 years ago. “Non-constitutional!” “Dysfunctional legislature!” “Cynical political action, just for the sake of politics! And, in politics, of all places!” Blah blah blah.

        2. No, Democrats now routinely file for cloture the second a bill hits the floor. That doesn’t mean that Republicans are filibustering.

  6. I welcome the day when the majority of people recognize that the government has no respect for any of the rules.

  7. I like how the parties keep switching sides, and each time they say “this situation is totally different and we are, too, being consistent!”

    1. Think of the children!!

  8. Why do we even have a senate, anyway? Why do the voters in Rhode Island get to enjoy the highest federal representation per citizen ratio in the US?

    Anyway, it’s what we do with every power swing: it’s Democrats turn to whine about a dysfunctional legislature, and Republicans turn to whine about nuclear options undermining the constitution. In a few years, they’ll switch hats, and talk about the Republicans ramming their conservative agenda through with a nuclear option, and Democrats will be worried stiff about the constitution. Blah blah blah.

    1. To protect minority rights. Just a little bit. Thats why.

      Original designers knew pure democracy sucks ass.

      1. “Original designers knew pure democracy sucks ass.”

        Absolutely true; the US is NOT a democracy; it is a republic.

        1. No, the US is a bureaucracy. 🙁

          1. No, an Idiocracy!

        2. But, why do I have to share a representative with the people who live around me? Geography is just one dimension in which to partition voters. Why not by occupation? Or age? or intelligence? I’m pretty much gerrymandered out of any like-minded district, since there’s no way in hell I have the time to waste coordinating both political action and where I fucking live, with like-minded people.

          I might be motivated to participate if, in some decentralized way, I could choose my own constituency, and we could vote for a representative, regardless of our geography. Other countries have multi-party systems that could product similar effects.

          It’s so freaking arbitrary. Yet we act like the result of the process is some pure expression of the will of the people. What a joke.

      2. Point to the filibuster clause in the constitution.

        1. Oh, I know it’s a senate rule. But whining against the horrible nuclear option that your party was in favor of only a few years prior sounds much more dramatic when you’re making vague, high-level references to “checks and balances” (i.e., branches of government defined in the constitution), etc., even though the idea of the senate checking and balancing itself is pretty bizarre. Google “‘nuclear option’ +’checks and balances.'” You can find references from Republicans now, and Democrats in 2005. RTFA:

          Harry Reid:”…destroy the very checks and balances our Founding Fathers put in place to prevent absolute power by any one branch of government.”

          So go ask Harry Reid where the founding fathers used the filibuster as part of checks and balances, and a senate rule balances the senate with other branches.. According to wikipedia, it really wasn’t even used until the 1830’s. But hey, why listen to that, instead of your Senate majority leader?

          1. More from Wikipedia that’s inconvenient to Tony:

            In the 2007?08 session of Congress, there were 112 cloture votes and some have used this number to argue an increase in the number of filibusters occurring in recent times. However, the Senate leadership has increasingly utilized cloture as a routine tool to manage the flow of business, even in the absence of any apparent filibuster. For these reasons, the presence or absence of cloture attempts cannot be taken as a reliable guide to the presence or absence of a filibuster. Inasmuch as filibustering does not depend on the use of any specific rules, whether a filibuster is present is always a matter of judgment.

        2. “Point to the filibuster clause in the constitution.”

          Okay. Article 1, Section 5:

          Each House may determine the Rules of its Proceedings…

        3. Agreed, the filibuster should never have been. So all the Bush nominees are now retroactively appointed.

          Better reserve a place in the unemployment line for those Obama judges. Not needed anymore. Hit the road!

  9. This is pretty simple really, almost as simple as Harry himself. Reid faced a real challenge in the last election so he rustled up the labor unions and the guys whose names end in vowels (Vegas) to get out the vote, early and often. Now its payback time. He, like the rest of the human dung in D.C., is myopic. He wants only to seat favorable folks on the National Labor Relations Board. But can’t see the long term effects of the nuclear option.

    Reid can lick my balls…the back of my balls.

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