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Beam: Nuclear option doesn’t register

Last Modified: Wednesday, November 27, 2013 3:52 PM

By Jim Beam / American Press

What is this nuclear option business we heard about last week, and why is it such a big deal? Actually, it’s a legislative maneuver used in the U.S. Senate, and John Q. Public doesn’t seem to care about it one way or the other.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., used the nuclear option to keep Republicans from continually blocking executive and judicial nominations made by President Obama. And the GOP leadership said the Democrats are going to regret it some day.

The Senate has a long history of giving members of the minority party some political stroke in order to keep the party in power from steamrolling appointments and legislation. Instead of needing only 51 votes for a majority on most issues in the 100-member Senate, a rule that is nearly two centuries old has required 60 votes. So, 41 senators could block appointments, using what is called the filibuster rule.

Both parties have threatened to use the nuclear option over the years, because both have blocked appointments made by a president from the other party. However, Reid is the first to do it. Now, executive and judicial appointments will only require 51 votes.

The Senate voted 52-48 to change the rules. Three Democrats voted with all of the Republicans. Louisiana’s two senators split their votes. Democrat Mary Landrieu voted for the change; Republican David Vitter opposed the move.

Landrieu told The Times-Picayune minority members led by (Senate Minority Leader) Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and (Sen.) Ted Cruz, R-Texas, “have distorted and misused the power of the minority to obstruct and stop progress on important issues...”

Maybe they have, but Reid’s actions won’t change that. Legislation and Supreme Court appointments don’t come under the rule change — at least for now. Republicans said once exceptions are made, others will follow, and they may be right. Reid said he wouldn’t mind seeing the super majority requirement abolished for everything, but he didn’t have the votes to do it.

Vitter told the newspaper, “... This isn’t just a shame for the Senate; it’s scary and dictatorial for our country.”

The Times-Picayune said in 2005 Vitter wanted judicial nominees to get an up or down vote. Republican George W. Bush was president at the time, so the shoe was on the other foot.

Reid defends his action, saying, “The American people believe the Senate is broken, and I believe the American people are right. It’s time to get the Senate working again.”

What he should have said is the American people believe the entire congressional system is broken, and speeding up the president’s appointments isn’t going to make them feel any differently. Recent surveys have shown many voters would love to “turn all the rascals out.”

The Wall Street Journal reported that threats to use the nuclear option go back to 1841 when Kentucky Sen. Henry Clay threatened to use it. The newspaper said the late Sen. Ted Kennedy and 18 other Democrats threatened to do it in the 1990s.

Like other politicians, Reid says what is convenient for the times. The Wall Street Journal said in 2008 Reid “swore that as long as he was leader, he would never turn to the nuclear option, saying it would be a ‘black chapter in the history of the Senate.’”

Republicans have also threatened to use the nuclear option. One video circulated last week by liberal organizations shows McConnell making the same threat.

The Washington Post said use of the nuclear option was the culmination of more than 25 years of feuding over nominations that dates back to the days when Ronald Reagan was president. The newspaper said last week’s change was so significant that Reid and his leadership team held a victory party with liberal activists afterward in a room just off the Senate floor.

Those activist groups burned up the Internet Friday, praising Reid’s use of the nuclear option. Some said the change should be called “Reid’s Rule.”

Republicans are pinning their hopes on winning control of the Senate in next year’s congressional elections.

“Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said, “The silver lining is that there will come a day when the roles are reversed.”

A former Senate GOP aide called it, “The tyranny of the majority.”

There was another reason why Reid and his supporters were motivated to invoke the nuclear option.

The Associated Press said, “With the change, Democrats scored points with liberal groups that can deliver money and mobilization in 2014 congressional races with control of the House and 21 Democratic and 14 Republican Senate seats at stake...”

You can be sure Republicans aren’t going to take any of this sitting down. GOP leaders are already saying Reid took this action to deflect criticism away from the flaws that have surfaced in the president’s health care program. A CBS poll released last week showed Obama’s job approval rating at 37 percent and only 47 percent believe he can effectively manage the federal government.

“McConnell said, “They muscled through Obamacare on a party-line vote and didn’t care about the views of the minority, and that’s just about what they are going to do here.”

Something tells me this nuclear option thing isn’t really registering with most voters. It’s much too complicated. However, they are already feeling the costly effects of Obamacare, and that should be a major concern for Democrats who have simply won a parliamentary maneuver that most Americans don’t understand and care about.

• • •

Jim Beam, the retired editor of the American Press, has covered people and politics for more than five decades. Contact him at 494-4025 or

Posted By: Joseph LeFevre On: 11/24/2013

Title: Nuclear Option Doesn't Register

It would have helped your readers understand this situation better if you had pointed out how much the Republicans have used the filibuster during President Obama's term. Just one example--in all of the senate's history there have been 186 filibusters of executive and judicial appointments. Almost half of those have come since President Obama was elected. As a result, according to CNN, there are now 93 vacancies in the federal judiciary even though many of the appointees have bipartisan support but are prevented from receiving a vote due to filibustering.
The Republican antipathy toward President Obama has apparently eliminated any pretense that the role of the minority party, once elections are over, is to help govern the country. It is now openly the case that the minority party takes as its role obstructing any governing that the elected president tries to do. Given this situation, it is no wonder that the so called "nuclear option" was implemented by the Democrats.

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