Newspaper article Roll Call

Republicans Have the Senate, Now What Happens to the Filibuster?

Newspaper article Roll Call

Republicans Have the Senate, Now What Happens to the Filibuster?

Article excerpt

Now that the GOP has swept into control of the Congress, it is immediately confronted with familiar realities. Because of the Senate rules, under most circumstances it is necessary to get 60 votes to get anything major done.

The Republicans have reached new depths in the abuse of the filibuster as the Senate minority over the past eight years. As they move into the majority, speculation has begun about what they might do about the filibuster rules.

In November 2013, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and the Democrats used a parliamentary ploy notoriously nicknamed "the nuclear option" to change the precedents in the Senate. Since then, the existing filibuster rule is interpreted to mean that cloture can be invoked to end debate on presidential nominations (except for the Supreme Court) by a simple majority vote. (This is often mis- reported as "51 votes." Actually, because a quorum in the Senate is 51, a simple majority can be as few as 26 senators.)

At the time, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who is now poised to become the new majority leader in January, complained bitterly on the Senate floor. He pointed out that in 2005, minority Democrats who were then filibustering a number of President George W. Bush's federal circuit court nominees had opposed Republican threats to use the nuclear option.

"When Democrats were in the minority, they argued strenuously for the very thing they now say we will have to do without; namely, the right to extended debate on lifetime appointments. In other words, they believe that one set of rules should apply to them - and another set to everybody else," McConnell said of their change of heart.

Now the shoe is on the other foot once again. Democrats will no doubt rediscover the important role the filibuster rules play in protecting the rights and privileges of the minority in the Senate. It will be a revelation for many, since as few as 15 Democratic senators (16 if Mary L. Landrieu survives her runoff in Louisiana) have served in the minority in the Senate. …

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