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EDITORIAL

There's a reason they call it the nuclear option

Monday, November 25, 2013 - 8:41 am

With simple majority rule, Senate will be just like the House now.

Indiana Democratic U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly was in favor of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s plan last week to “go nuclear” by forbidding senators to filibuster in some cases. Republican Indiana U.S. Sen. Dan Coats was against it.

Boy there’s some shock, huh?

How advisable was this drastic action? Consider this wise counsel:

“The nuclear option abandons America’s sense of fair play … tilting the playing field on the side of those who control and own the field. I say to my friends on the Republican side, you may own the field right now, but you won’t own it forever. And I pray God when the Democrats take back control, we don’t make the kind of naked power grab you are doing.”

That was a certain Joe Biden, then a U.S. senator and now the Democratic vice president who thinks ending the filibuster is just dandy. Now, he’s the one who should hope to God that when Republicans take back control, they don’t go for a similar naked power grab.

The difference between then and now is that Republicans did not go nuclear – they merely threatened to end the practice of filibuster. What Reid and his fellow Democrats have done is to abandon rules that have guided the Senate since 1789.

Nobody really believes this will be a limited end to the filibuster, affecting only presidential appointments below the Supreme Court level. The precedent has been set now, and it’s easy to see a time when a simple majority vote will be all that’s required to get anything done in the Senate. There will be no more 60-vote majority for certain critical things.

And that will make the Senate exactly like the House, which means it will be exactly as dysfunctional as the House. “If it was possible to make things even worse in Washington,” wrote Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank, “Reid just did it.”

The Senate, it has been joked, is “where bills go to die.” That was by design. Our founders wisely created the Senate as a place to slow things down so they could be mulled over. They also carefully constructed a system of checks and balances to diffuse power. One of those checks is now gone. It will be simple majority rule in the Senate, and the rights of the minority granted by federalism will be gone.

Everybody is right that Republicans will be sorely tempted to adopt this “naked power” when it’s their turn in the majority. We certainly hope they are smarter than that and let a commitment to constitutional and federalist principles overrule a thirst for revenge.