EDITORIAL: Senate took right step with curb of filibuster abuse

November 22, 2013 

Senate Nomination Fight

From left, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nev., Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin of Ill., defend the Senate Democrats’ vote to weaken filibusters and make it harder for Republicans to block confirmation of the president's nominees for judges and other top posts, Thursday, Nov. 21, 2013, during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington. Reid complained that Republican gridlock has prevented the chamber from functioning, while his GOP counterpart, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., says Democrats are using a power play to distract voters from the president's troubled health care law. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)


The U.S. Senate has taken a significant step back to majority rule.

Abuse of the filibuster has blocked qualified public servants from important posts and mocked the Senate's constitutional role on presidential nominations. Requiring a 60-vote supermajority to end debate and get an up-or-down vote on a nominee is not "advise and consent." It is obstructionism, and one cause of the gridlock in our nation's capital.

While the reform in filibuster rules approved Thursday overturns decades of precedent, it is still limited. The simple majority threshold only covers nominees to the federal courts and to the president's cabinet and executive agencies. It does not apply to the U.S. Supreme Court, or to substantive legislation.

For most of America's history, filibusters have been unusual. During the Obama presidency, they have become a key part of the GOP playbook, used routinely and often to push unrelated issues.

That abuse has been "harmful to our democracy" and is "not what our founders intended," President Obama told reporters after the 52-48 Senate vote. "Enough is enough."

Senate Democrats, led by Harry Reid of Nevada, did not take this move lightly or impatiently.

The final straw was Republicans blocking three Obama nominees in the last three weeks to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The court rules on the constitutionality of actions by the White House and federal agencies, and is often a stepping stone for Supreme Court justices. GOP senators said that the D.C. court's workload didn't justify adding judges, but by keeping the three seats vacant, they preserved the court's majority of Republican nominees.

By delaying judicial nominees, Republicans have delayed justice in overburdened federal courts in California and across the country. According to a count this week, there are 75 vacancies in U.S. district courts, a full 11% of all seats.

It hasn't just been judicial nominations. As Obama noted, some 30 of his executive appointments have been filibustered, stalling the agenda that voters endorsed by electing him twice.

For two years, the GOP blocked confirmation for the director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau — a key reform from the Wall Street meltdown.

Republicans can cry foul all they want about what happened Thursday. But when the day comes that they control the Senate, they will appreciate the new rules.


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