Quotes of the day

If Congress wasn’t broken before, it certainly is now. What Reid (Nev.) and his fellow Democrats effectively did was take the chamber of Congress that still functioned at a modest level and turn it into a clone of the other chamber, which functions not at all. They turned the Senate into the House

Certainly, Republicans have abused the dilatory tactics that Senate minorities have, for centuries, used with greater responsibility; they seem intent on bringing government to a halt. And the Senate in 2013 is hardly a healthy institution. Yet it has achieved far more than the House — passing bipartisan immigration legislation and a farm bill and working out deals to avoid default and to end the federal government shutdown — largely because, until Thursday, Senate rules required the majority party to win votes from the minority…

“Cloture has fostered more bipartisanship in the Senate,” Donald Ritchie, the Senate historian, told me Thursday after Reid detonated his nuclear device. “The majority leader of the Senate is expected to try to work out some kind of a bipartisan deal to get enough votes to get cloture. Because the House is run by majority rule, it is seen as a sign of weakness if the majority leadership of the House has to get votes from the minority side.”…

If it was possible to make things even worse in Washington, Reid just did it.


Ultimately, a small group of centrists — Republicans and Democrats — could find the muscle to hold the Senate at bay until bipartisan solutions can be found. But for the foreseeable future, Republicans, wounded and eager to show they have not been stripped of all power, are far more likely to unify against the Democrats who humiliated them in such dramatic fashion…

The rule change lowered to a simple 51-vote majority the threshold to clear procedural hurdles on the way to the confirmation of judges and executive nominees. But it did nothing to streamline the gantlet that presidential nominees run. Republicans may not be able to muster the votes to block Democrats on procedure, but they can force every nomination into days of debate between every procedural vote in the Senate book — of which there will be many…

“Today’s historic change to Senate rules escalates what is already a hyperpartisan atmosphere in Washington, which is already preventing Congress from addressing our nation’s most significant challenges,” said former Senator Olympia Snowe, a Republican, and former Representative Dan Glickman, a Democrat, in a joint statement from the Bipartisan Policy Center.


Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid made one party in the Senate significantly more powerful when he ended filibusters on presidential appointments Thursday — and instantly elevated the importance of the 2014 Senate elections.

“It raises the stakes,” said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who has often remarked that “elections have consequences.”…

McCain suggested retribution was a distinct possibility. “There’s going to be a lot of anger,” McCain said. “What happens in January 2015, if Republicans are in the majority? ”

Asked what would happen, McCain offered an energetic snort, accidentally knocking a reporter’s recorder to the ground. “It depends on how angry people are. It depends on how badly [Democrats] abuse us,” said McCain, who had tried a day earlier to talk Reid out of going nuclear. “There may be Republicans who say, ‘They did it to us, so let’s do it to them.'”


The next GOP President should line up Federalist Society alumni for judicial nominations like planes waiting to take off at O’Hare International Airport. Imagine two or three more Clarence Thomases on the High Court confirmed with 51 Senate votes. Planned Parenthood can send its regrets to Harry Reid.

Mr. Reid’s new rules for Senate radicals are also a warning of what Democrats will do if they retake the House in 2014. They will surely break any GOP filibuster that could block key liberal legislation so President Obama can go out with a reprise of his first two years. Forget about a filibuster stopping union card-check, for example.

ObamaCare would never have passed if Mr. Franken hadn’t stolen the Minnesota recount and prosecutors hadn’t hidden exculpatory evidence to convict Alaska Republican Ted Stevens on false ethics charges. But liberals are showing that they’ll only need 51 votes, not 60, to pass the next ObamaCare.

Conservatives have more of a stake than liberals do in the legislative filibuster as a check on the political passions of the moment. But the Democrats who rewrote Senate rules on Thursday should also understand that they have now opened the door to repeal ObamaCare with only 51 votes.


The long-considered but never invoked “nuclear option” was appealed to at a conspicuous time. The ground is collapsing out from under Democratic feet. In a panic, they are falling back on maneuvers which mitigate immediate pain and provide short-term gains, all the while acknowledging that the risks they are taking are high and the prospect of long-term advantage extremely low.

Take, for example, the spectacular disaster that has become of the Affordable Care Act’s debut. President Barack Obama’s party in Congress abandoned the long game they had played so well over the course of the Republican-led government shutdown within days of the government reopening. When the public’s attention was focused squarely on the problematic website, the waves of insurance cancellations, and price shocks, Democrats panicked…

Once again, Democrats in the Senate knew they were playing with fire. They knew that partisan rancor will increase, that comity was dead, and, rather than increasing the upper chamber’s functionality, this maneuver was more likely to incent the minority to use all the powers still at their disposal to grind Senate business to a halt. Furthermore, they knew that the GOP, once in the majority, would use this precedent to pass not only judicial but possibly Supreme Court nominees, or even legislative initiatives, with a simple majority vote…

Democrats have become reckless gamblers. Their admirable strategic risk aversion has dissolved in the haze of panic. They are happily making choices today that they acknowledge they are likely to regret in the medium to long-term.


Once the filibuster is gone, it’s as good as forever gone. There is no incentive for any majority party to reinstate it. Nor is there any reason to expect that future majorities will respect what’s left of it. If a Democratic minority in 2017 tries to filibuster a Republican Supreme Court nominee, the Republicans will surely follow yesterday’s precedent. The legislative filibuster may prove more robust, but one suspects our hypothetical Republican majority would abolish it if that’s what it takes to repeal ObamaCare.

What’s peculiar about the timing of the Democrats’ decision is that it comes just when the partisan risk of abolishing the filibuster has been heightened…

The abject failure of ObamaCare has made the prospect of a Republican Senate in 2015 and a Republican president in 2017 much likelier. Thus even from a purely partisan standpoint, rational Democrats would have been more cautious about invoking the nuclear option when they did than at just about any other time in the past five years…

[P]rospect theory … posits that people will take bigger risks in the hope of minimizing a loss than in the hope of maximizing a gain. The psychological impact of the loss itself clouds one’s thinking about the risks of magnifying the loss. That explains why the Democrats went nuclear just as the perils of doing so multiplied.


The importance of keeping Obamacare front-and-center is dominating the internal discussion of how to respond to Reid’s unprecedented decision to abruptly end the filibuster for nominations with a bare-majority vote. It also explains why Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was relatively muted in his response, telling reporters, “I don’t think this is a time to be talking about reprisal. I think it’s a time to be sad about what’s been done to the United States Senate.”…

But high-profile retaliatory strikes are unlikely to happen because Republicans believe it would play right into Reid’s hands, taking Obamacare from the front-pages of newspapers. “Retaliation is exactly what Reid is hoping for,” says one GOP aide…

One looming question is whether Reid will move to kill the filibuster for legislation, as well.

On that issue, Republicans are of different minds. One senior aide says, “I don’t think people would be surprised by anything Reid did at this point,” while others suspect Senate Democrats are already having second thoughts about how a post-nuclear Senate will operate.


My position today is consistent with the position that I took then, that every Senate democrat took then, and that’s just back in 2005. That was to preserve the rights of the Senate minority. I can’t ignore that.

Nor can I ignore the fact that Democrats have used the filibuster on many occasions to advance or protect policies that we believe in. When Republicans controlled the White House, the Senate and the House of Representatives from 2003-2006, it was a Democratic minority in the Senate that blocked a series of bills that would have severely restricted the reproductive rights of women. It was a Democratic minority in the Senate that beat back efforts to limit Americans’ rights to seek justice in our courts when they’re harmed by corporate or medical wrongdoing. It was a Democratic minority in the Senate that stopped the nominations of some to the federal courts who we believed would not provide fair and unbiased judgment. Without the protections afforded the Senate minority, total repeal of the estate tax would have passed the Senate in 2006.

And we don’t have to go back to 2006 to find examples of Senate Democrats using the rules of the Senate to stop passage of what many of us deemed bad legislation. Just this year, these recollections prevented an adoption of an amendment that would have essentially prevented the EPA from protecting waters under the Clean Water Act. We stopped an amendment to allow loaded and concealed weapons on lands managed by the Army Corps of Engineers as a minority with minority votes. As minority votes, we stopped legislation that would have allowed some individuals who were deemed mentally incompetent access to firearms. That’s just the last year. Removing these minority protections risks that in the future important civil and political rights might just disappear because a majority agree that they should.

And let us not kid ourselves. The fact that we changed the rules today just to apply to judges and executive nominations does not mean the same precedent won’t be used tomorrow or the next year or the year after to provide for the end of a filibuster on legislation, on bills that are before us, and on amendments.


Democrats say the crippling of the filibuster will make government more efficient and allow legislation to pass more easily. But there is a downside to majoritarianism and the “efficiency” it brings. As Phil Kerpen, author of the 2011 book Denying Democracy, told me: “The filibuster change will make it far more likely that major legislative accomplishments can be swept away in the next swing of the political pendulum. Public policy will be less stable and long-term business planning will be confounded.”

In short, it will make government more unstable. Temporary majorities could pass sweeping legislation on immigration policy, tax law, and regulatory procedures with no bipartisan input — as was done in 2010 with the passage of the now unraveling Obamacare law.

Many people have decried the extent to which the Senate has become a bitter, partisan place with fewer examples of bipartisan consensus building. But giving whichever party has a narrow majority free rein to approve presidential nominees isn’t the solution. Over time, it will become clear that this “cure” is far worse than the disease the snake-oil salesmen behind it claim it is treating.


Decades of negative and destructive policies can be reversed with a bare majority. Obamacare can be repealed with a bare majority. True Conservative Judges will not be banished due to a filibuster threat.

Yes, it’s true that the absence of a filibuster could accelerate the destructive policies. That fear is justified, particularly as to the judiciary. But face it, we were headed there anyway unless drastic action was taken.

That drastic action took place yesterday. By Democrats.

Now at least we have a chance to achieve previously unimaginable progress in a single presidential term if we also have bare majorities in Congress and a President with the willpower. It will take only one such term.

The ratchet has been broken.