This hardly seems an opportune moment for Senate Democrats to strengthen the hand of the majority in dealing with presidential appointments and potentially for legislation. After all, they’re tied to a President whose polling numbers are diving into George W. Bush territory as we speak, and to a major piece of legislation that is growing more unpopular even faster than Barack Obama. A year from now, when the ObamaCare mandates hit the employer-based group insurance market as it’s hit the individual market this year, Democrats may end up looking at a total wipeout in the midterm elections.
But hey, at least filibuster reform gives Harry Reid a rallying cry while under siege:
Senator Harry Reid, the majority leader, is prepared to move forward with a vote that could severely limit the minority party’s ability to filibuster presidential nominees, possibly as early as this week, Democrats said Tuesday.
Exasperated with the refusal of Senate Republicans to confirm many of President Obama’s nominees, Mr. Reid has been speaking individually with members of his caucus to gauge whether there is enough support to change filibuster rules.
Given how much deference senators have traditionally shown to the rules and procedures of the institution — many of them in place since the 18th century — any modifications are a serious undertaking.
But among Democrats there is a strong consensus that Republicans have gone too far in their latest attempt to block White House appointments, by denying Mr. Obama any more judges for what is considered the most important appeals court in the country despite three vacancies.
On Monday, they denied him his third pick in less than a month to the court, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. If Mr. Reid determines he has the support, he could schedule a vote before Friday, an aide who has spoken with him directly said Tuesday.
Republicans blocked the nominee in part because Obama seems curiously focused on an appellate court where vacancies aren’t a problem, as opposed to other parts of the federal judiciary where they are. Obama wants to pack the DC court because it’s the most significant on federal regulatory policy, where Obama has lost a few battles over the last four-plus years even though the court is split evenly at the moment between Republican and Democratic appointees. Reid wants to push through Obama’s appointments for the same reason, but even more, he needs to distract his caucus from the disaster unfolding at HHS with the ObamaCare law they shoved through Congress over the objections of Republicans, thanks in part to a clever method of avoiding the same filibuster Reid now wants to weaken.
On the other hand, there is a serious question about the proper consideration of presidential appointments. Elections have consequences, and one of those is the ability to appoint judges and especially term-limited political appointments within the executive. The Senate has long become a sandbox of tit-for-tat obstructionism that has kept presidents of both parties from exercising a legitimate power of their office. In part, this fight takes place because of the stakes involved after a long era of judicial activism has encroached on legislative power, but the solution to that won’t be in another long era of obstructionism, or at least not if we want to have an effective exercise of legitimate power conferred by elections.
David Harsanyi argues that Republicans should not just call Reid’s bluff, but go farther:
So the question is: would Reid really going to blow up the Senate for some D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals judges? It seems improbable. But if he does, the GOP, should they ever return to power, will have the justification it needs to undo Obamacare – or pretty much anything they please – with their own majority. If the filibuster is neither sacred nor a check on power, there is no reason for legislation or cabinet nominees to be immune from the up-or-down vote. It’s going to mean a lot less stability in DC, a lot more seesawing legislation, and more severe partisanship than anyone in the Senate could possibly desire.
Or, perhaps Reid is is so certain that the GOP will capitulate, he feels comfortable issuing ultimatums he knows he’ll never have to follow through on. Well, if Republicans surrender each time Reid threatens them, they have effectively rendered the filibuster useless. They’d be better off checking and taking a look at Reid’s hand. Because as much as some of us believe that the filibuster is an important tool in a healthy Republic, unilateral disarmament in politics only leads to disaster.
I’d prefer that we look for a better use of the filibuster when it comes to appointments, and get rid of the bad blood that’s been around since the Robert Bork and John Tower confirmation hearings. That would take some real statesmanship on both sides of the aisle rather than threats and see-sawing obstructionism, but I doubt we’ll see that from Democrats while they sink under the weight of ObamaCare.