Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Time To Light 'Em Up

While the temps near our DC offices are forecast to get near 100ºF this week, we have no doubt that inside the Old Senate Chambers last night, and inside the normal Senate chambers today, will be where the real heat is at.

As you may know, the full U.S. Senate - all 100 members - met yesterday evening in the Old Senate Chambers to discuss a possible way around Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid invoking the infamous "nuclear option" in the U.S. Senate. Since no deal was reported out of that meeting, we fully expect Majority Leader Reid to push ahead with all seven votes on President Obama's nominees this morning.

If Sen. McConnell and the Republican leaders in the Senate balk, stall, or try to obstruct a vote on any of those nominees, Sen. Reid has confirmed he will push the metaphorical button, and use the so-called nuclear option to change the rules in the U.S. Senate. That the Republicans' obstructionist ways will finally blow up in their faces shouldn't surprise anyone - and frankly, this rule change isn't anything to fear.

The level of rule change Majority Leader Reid is looking for isn't a complete elimination of the filibuster in the Senate. Rather, it's an adjustment that actually brings the Senate closer to both the letter and the intent of the Constitution, specifically Article II, Section 2, Clause 2 - The Appointments Clause.

The Appointments Clause empowers the President of the United States to appoint individuals to positions, including cabinet level agencies, with the "advice and consent" of the Senate. There's nowhere in this clause, or in any of our country's founding documents that says this power had a duel use, as both a way to confirm nominees and a way for the Senate to prevent a President from picking the people that President wants to work with in the Cabinet. The Senate is simply supposed to advise, and then, if a majority of Senators agrees, consent to the President's nomination. That's a majority of Senators - not a supermajority.

Yet, as Sen. Reid noted in his Monday press conference at the Center For American Progress, Republicans in the Senate have used the filibuster at such a high rate, if they continue at this pace, before the end of his second term, they'll have blocked more of President Obama's appointments than all other Presidents have had blocked by the Senate, combined.

There's absolutely no reason for this kind of nullification tactic by Republicans - or anyone else for that matter. Indeed, as the Washington Post's Greg Sargent noted Monday morning and as Sen Tom Harkin of Iowa noted Monday afternoon, Republicans aren't filibustering President Obama's nominees for any reason other than as an act of nullification.

As Sargent also correctly noted, even longtime GOP House and Senate staffer Richard Arenberg conceded last week that the way Republicans have been using the filibuster to block presidential nominees under President Obama has been effectively "poking the Democrats with a sharp stick."

That Harry Reid has finally been pushed to the point of using the Constitution to blow away at least some of the pointless and infantile obstruction of the Republican Party may blow back a bit in the faces of Democrats, true.

More likely, though, using the "nuclear option" to fix the Senate, and make it more functional again, will force sane Republicans in the Senate to truly take on the tea bag extremists in their own party - and that's an explosion we've been waiting a long time to see.

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