As it happens, I like the filibuster. I’m fine with its broad use against as many laws as the minority likes. I like minorities being able to hold the majority back.
That said, I don’t like what the Republicans are doing with it against presidential nominees. Yes, I understand that there’s a history and Democrats arguably started it, but whoever started it, the escalation has gotten ridiculous. Within broad limits of reason, the president should be able to nominate people to hold office.
So I don’t have a firm opinion on the moral merits of the growing Democratic desire to get rid of the filibuster. It’s a Senate procedure, and Senators are entitled to get rid of it. I am, however, a little surprised that Democrats would be considering it now.
As I understand it, there is about a 0% chance that Democrats will retake the House in 2014, which means that Republicans already have quite an efficient veto over any legislation they might like to pass. Meanwhile, there’s about a 70% chance that Republicans will control the White House, the House, and the Senate come January 2017. Without the filibuster in place, Republicans could do a lot of damage to programs that Democrats like. That seems an expensive risk to run in order to get some presidential nominees through, however mad you are about GOP obstructionism.
But if that happens, the Republicans could go nuclear themselves in 2017, you may say. And that’s certainly a risk. But in fact, I think they will be as skittish about it as the Democrats have so far proven. Congressional control has proven stunningly evanescent since the Republicans first took back the House in 1994. It’s no fun getting rid of the filibuster and then ending up back in the minority a year later.
And there’s a reason it’s called “the nuclear option”: once you’ve leveled the institution, the ground will be too radioactive to rebuild. The first party that eliminates the filibuster gets a brief advantage, but then then they never again to shelter under the filibuster.
It’s a big gamble, anyway. And not a gamble worth taking to get a few nominations through. Or at least, that’s what I’d think. Harry Reid appears to be of another opinion . . . and his opinion is the one that matters.