Limiting filibusters a fair move for Democrats, who had to break gridlock

November 25, 2013 

Republicans no doubt will make good on their promise to pay back Senate Democrats for acting last week to limit filibusters of some presidential appointees. Revenge – from holding up appointments to federal judgeships to skewering the president’s health care initiative to attacking President Barack Obama’s foreign policies – has seemed to be the GOP’s reason for being ever since Jan. 20, 2009.

The truth is, the Senate rule essentially requiring 60 votes to avoid a filibuster was an anachronism anyway. It has long been justified by both parties – and attacked by both parties as well – as a protection against a president’s railroading policies through appointees.

But Senate Republicans, divided by the likes of Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas – whose most memorable contribution to debate has been reading Dr. Seuss on the floor of the Senate – and the ever-whining Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, have used the 60-vote rule as little more than a club with which to pound the president.

Republicans went so far as to say they would allow the president no more appointments to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, the most important appeals court because it hears so many constitutional challenges to federal law.

What did they expect Democrats to do? Just shrug their shoulders and walk away?

The GOP opposition isn’t about the qualifications of nominees. It is all about partisan politics, about trying to weaken the president and his party as the 2014 elections approach.

And it’s about beating up on the president for his success in getting the Affordable Care Act passed, which Republicans fear will strengthen Democrats in the long run once the ACA’s technical difficulties are overcome.

Surely many Americans were disgusted at the reaction of Senate GOP leader Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who basically told Democrats they’d live to regret this action. In other words, if Republicans retake control of the Senate, they’ll stick it to Democrats at every opportunity.

Nice. Lose a vote, pout and then promise revenge.

McConnell’s reaction would be justifiable if this were a case of Democrats’ trying to ram through outrageous legislation or trying to push judicial nominees who clearly were ideological in their rulings and unqualified. But none of that is true.

The president of the United States has the right to make such appointments. And through the terms of all presidents in the modern era, members of the opposition party have gone along with, and even voted for, judicial nominees they weren’t particularly crazy about just because they believed a president was entitled to make the choices.

But the current batch of Republicans, divided among themselves by the tea party and worried about whether that radical element of their party will run somebody against them in a primary, is hopelessly insecure. Consider the veteran McConnell: His junior senator from Kentucky is Rand Paul, darling of the tea party and libertarians. McConnell has to be concerned about whether even Paul will break with him.

And McConnell is bent on frustrating President Obama’s leadership. In 2010, he said “the most important thing” was to make Obama a one-term president. So with Obama’s re-election, McConnell and other Republicans are now in the middle of what amounts to a legislative tantrum.

With their refusal to compromise, Republicans basically got what they asked for. And they would have done precisely the same thing that Senate Democrats did if the tables were turned.

Democrats now must simply move ahead with approving the president’s judicial nominees to ensure the adequate performance of the system. They have done the right thing, and they have taken an action with which most of their constituents likely would concur while wondering why they didn’t do it sooner.

Members of the Gridlock Old Party may whine all they like, but it was time that tradition abused became tradition abolished.

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