Will the ‘nuclear option weaken the Senate? Don’t believe it.

The ’nuclear option,’ so named because it is believed to be catastrophic to U.S. Senate tradition and function, would remove the filibuster requirement for Supreme Court nominees. But why should Senate tradition, which in this case is not very old, be worth preserving? One case for retaining the filibuster is here.

The French word flibustier at the origin of our term filibuster appropriately means ‘buccaneer’ and by extension ‘crook.’  Until recently the filibuster rule permitted a senator to delay a floor vote only so long as he was speaking from the rostrum continuously – no bathroom or other breaks permitted. He could, however, be relieved by another Senator. This tactic could in principle gain other Senators time in which to round up votes.

But the current rule does not require speaking to an empty chamber reading from Dr Seuss. Now when the minority simply signals ’filibuster,’ a cloture vote to end debate is not permitted and the bill being debated is shut down. Pace filibuster apologists, this hardly extends debate or encourages deliberate consideration of different points of view. It simply ends debate, giving the minority party veto power, like a buccaneer on the high seas invading another vessel. If the goal is to enable extensive debate and further reasonable compromise, other and better rules can be substituted. However, to think that rules can encourage thoughtful compromise is rather naive.

The Senate is all too often the place when good bills go to die. If they do not die, the requirement of a filibuster-proof supermajority makes them emerge diluted and loaded with pork. Remember the Cornhusker kickback, the Louisiana purchase, and the Florida flim-flam provisions in Obamacare? Since the nuclear option exercised today does not apply to legislative filibusters, we can anticipate with dread what Senate ‘tradition’ will do to tax reform and the repeal and replacement of Obamacare. The Senate’s indulgence for its ‘traditions’ seems to suggest a culture of self-importance. Senatorial egos suggest the same.

Don’t believe the pleas to retain the filibuster for judicial nominees. In fact let’s remove the filibuster for garden-variety legislative bills. If we insist on preserving tradition, – why? – let’s bring back the old-fashioned filibuster as detailed here and enable the solons of the Senate to block cloture votes only while they are speaking from the rostrum.    

Troglo (L. H. Kevil)