Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, speaks to the media after the Democrat majority in the Senate pushed through a major rules change, one that curbs the power of the Republican minority to block President Barack Obama's nominations for high-level judgeships and cabinet and agency officials, on Capitol Hill on Thursday, Nov. 21, 2013, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Updated: December 23, 2013 2:57PM
The governing philosophy of Democrats in the era of Barack Obama appears to be the ends justify the means.
First they pushed through the most sweeping expansion of government in decades by passing Obamacare on a strictly partisan vote. Over the years President Obama issued executive orders to, in effect, write or rewrite laws. Now Democrats have gutted the Senate filibuster, a not-always-pretty tactic that historically has been a powerful impulse toward bipartisanship.
The consequences of the “nuclear option” decision to end the filibuster for all presidential executive and judicial appointments except for the Supreme Court will be with us for years. Now only a simple majority of 51 votes, and not a super majority of 60, is needed to confirm all but a few presidential nominations.
Near term, the power play by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will further poison an already hyper-partisan environment in Washington. Long-term, the end of the filibuster for most posts could politicize and radicalize the courts as a partisan Senate rubber-stamps a president’s nominations regardless of the nominees’ qualifications. The threat of filibuster won’t exist to push a president toward moderate choices.
Both parties have abused the filibuster. Ironically, it was the Democrats who in 2003 pioneered filibusters against circuit judicial nominations by President George W. Bush. Then it was a GOP majority in the Senate that threatened to invoke the “nuclear option” to restrict the filibuster, but in the end Republicans wisely backed off.
A case may exist for ending the filibuster on executive appointments. The argument is a president should be able to pick the people he wants to help him govern. But judgeships are lifetime appointments and should face a much tougher standard.
Further down the road, another Senate majority could eliminate the filibuster for Supreme Court nominations and, then, maybe even for all legislation. The Supreme Court exception is almost sure to go at some future date. Democrats crowing today may be crying if that development were to come when a conservative Republican president could nominate a justice from the pro-life side of the abortion fight.
The power play enacting the radical Obamacare already is backfiring as Americans realize how it can restrict medical choice and raise costs.
Several times Obama has issued executive orders that amend the Affordable Care Act by, for example, delaying the mandate for employers to provide insurance coverage. On another front, he went around Congress to write his own immigration law to end the threat of deportation against illegal immigrants brought to this country as children.
You might agree with the goals of Obama and Democrats. But process matters. The rule of law matters. It’s dangerous for politicians to throw out rules, to diminish the U.S. Senate, to make their job easier.
When its history is written, the hallmark of the Obama presidency might not be Obamacare but rather far-reaching changes in our system of government that bode ill for our tradition of republican government and its protections of balances and checks on political power.