Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Nuclear Option Fallout

As we noted in our extended edition on Tuesday, Senate Majority leader Harry Reid did not end up pushing the button on the "nuclear option" that would have changed the filibuster rules in the Senate.

Like Ed Kilgore at The Washington Monthly, some of our staff members were a bit disappointed that Sen. Reid didn't lay legislative waste to the long-abused rules of the Senate filibuster. Still, Tuesday's deal with Senate Republicans to at least modify how the Senate uses the filibuster was a major win, both for Harry Reid and indeed for the Senate itself.

As Greg Sargent explained at The Plum Line blog, the agreement is fairly simple. Under the new rules, President Obama's nominations for all open Executive Branch positions will get more than 60 votes to break any filibuster on cloture. In practical terms, that means President Obama now only needs a majority vote in the Senate for confirmation of his choices.

Democrats also didn't agree to put the legislative nuke back in its silo - meaning Senate Republicans will continue to have the fallout from the near-nuclear option hanging over their heads for the foreseeable future. While some Republicans still see this whole event as a giant turkey, as Sahil Kapur noted at TPM, the deal still leaves the 60-vote threshold alive for nearly everything else in the Senate.

Finally, in exchange for Republicans discontinuing their nullification-by-filibuster policy, Democrats had to agree to replace two of President Obama's nominees for the National Labor Relations Board with two new nominees, chosen by the president, in consultation with labor groups. The White House wasted no time choosing new nominees, sending over the names of two new nominees for the NLRB before dinnertime on Tuesday.

While there is still some grumbling on all sides, the deal to avoid enacting the nuclear option isn't really a giant turkey for either Republicans or Democrats.

The arrangement, worked out by Sen. John McCain - who effectively depantsed Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell politically by going around him to actually work WITH Senate Democrats - will work to the advantage of whichever party holds both the White House and the Senate majority in the future. It also tends to turn down the temperature in the Senate by lessening a major route for immature "payback" and pure obstructionism - which in theory should mean the Senate has more time to actually get bills passed.

As Dave Weigel of Slate noted, if Americans actually paid attention to the recent history of the Senate, Tuesday's last-minute de-fuse of the nuclear option shouldn't really have been too big a surprise.

Still, as Jonathan Cohn at The New Republic made clear, Sen. Reid and the Democrats got a very big win over McConnell and the Republicans. So did every American who truly cares about protecting themselves and their fellow citizens from the predatory monsters on Wall Street, as well as those Americans fighting to build and strengthen unions.

On an effective basis, the filibuster in the Senate really was reformed on Tuesday, meaning that more actual governing may once again happen in Washington - at least outside the reach of the House of Representatives.

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