In an historic rule change, the filibuster is no more, as Senate Democrats have gone nuclear to effectively strip Senate Republicans of that ability Thursday, unilaterally overturning a Senate rule which has worked much to the favor of Republicans over the past decade.
A splitting hair vote of 52-48 has finally put an end to the struggle between Republicans and Democrats over delaying key political appointee positions. The positions now immune to Republican filibuster include appointees to federal courts. President Obama made a statement supporting the measure and saying that Republicans have utilized this technique as a “reckless and relentless tool to grind all business to a halt.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who jump started the move, has cited Republican obstructionism as the cause for the change in Senate precedent. Harry Reid claimed the abuse of the filibuster has led to the Senate’s inability to move forward and needed to be changed before the “institution becomes obsolete,”
In contrast, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky called out Democrats and accused them of exerting “raw power” and would soon feel the wrath of the restriction when the tables were turned and Republicans had control of Congress.
Recent filibusters on political appointees included the nomination of Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense. Chuck Hagel, a career Republican whose record shows a strong Republican leaning in policy decisions, was the target of Republicans when he was nominated by President Obama in early 2013. Democrats claimed it wasn’t the nomination of Chuck Hagel that Republicans had an issue with, but rather that Democrats were to succeed in a choice of their own.
With the new filibuster rule in effect, only a small majority would be needed to clear final votes for appointees. Exempt from the rule are Supreme Court nominees, a traditionally bipartisan issue which requires a strong majority to move forward.
Only three Democrats opposed the measure, among them Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, and Joe Manchin of West Virginia. Mark Pryor said that the design of the Senate was “to protect- not stamp out- the voices of the minority.”
The power move against Senate Republicans is seen as a threat to bipartisanship in Congress, an already almost obsolete notion. With Congress’s approval rating lower than at any other time in history, being beaten out by such nuisances as cockroaches and airplane food, Senate Democrats hope that by limiting Republican obstructionism, they can restore faith in Congress to the American public.
Since President Obama took office, Republicans in the Senate have blocked almost every major proposal by the Obama Administration, including such normally bipartisan and nonpolitical acts such as the Stop Aids in Prison Act (H.R. 1429), Veterans Retraining Act (H.R. 1168), and Vision Care for Kids Act (H.R. 577).
With the filibuster no more, Republicans say they will have to find other measures to prevent Democrats from having their way over the Senate. Democrats fire back, saying that they have reached across the aisle but are received with clenched fists and a determination to obstruct any Democrat supported measure, no matter how inconsequential.