The Senate Nuclear Option and Why

The nuclear option has happened.  It’s not the Cuban Missile Crisis, but the United States Senate.

Here is a sampling of some news articles:

Today’s filibuster is not our ancestor’s filibuster.

Who can forget Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington?

Mr. Smith Goes To Washington

Photo Credit Columbia Pictures Corporation

In real life the Kingfish, Huey P. Long, spoke for approximately 15 hours.  J. Strom Thurmond in opposition to the Civil Rights Act of 1957 spoke for 24 hours and 18 minutes which is the longest filibuster on record.

Since 1975, however, a filibuster ceased to require such a physical effort.  Rules changes allowed for other Senate business to be conducted, and in effect a filibuster could be mustered in absentia.

A Senator’s goal remained the same, and that was to prevent a vote.  In 1917, the Senate adopted something called cloture where a 2/3 vote could end a filibuster.  That number dropped to 60 percent in the 1975 changes.

If you care to read some of the background to filibusters and cloture, this CRS publication will provide an overview.

If you prefer to read the actual manuals for Senate procedures here they are:

[ I’m linking the Senate Manual of the 112th Congress because at the time of writing, I could not access the 113th which is essentially the same.]

Some of the historical background into Congressional practices can be read in their original language from Thomas Jefferson’s A Manual of Parliamentary Practice for the Use of the Senate of the United States linked here.

Why a nuclear option?

It’s just my opinion, but I would rather any objections be about the particular individual or subject matter being discussed.  This nuclear option, simply means that many of the matters which used to be routine can now take place with a simple majority vote and not with a need to have 60 votes.  It does not affect legislation or the affirming of appointments to the higher positions such as a Supreme Court Justice.  It merely keeps the wheels of the Chamber rolling.

Why have the wheels stopped?

You may have a different opinion, but mine is partisan politics.  From the Washington Times of 3 November 2013:

 “Sen. Lindsey Graham renewed his threat Sunday to block all presidential nominees until Congress gets the chance to interview survivors of the Benghazi attack and get answers about what went wrong on behalf of the families of those who were killed.”

Regardless of what you or I may think happened in the Benghazi attack, how many of these nominees were involved?  The answer is most often going to be as much as you or I were involved.  Instead of being judged on their own merits as to whether or not they are qualified for these specific jobs, the Senate has decided to hold them hostage regardless of any negative effect it might have on the country today.  Sadly, nothing will bring back the lives lost at Benghazi just like nothing will bring back the lives of those 3 individuals murdered about 3 blocks from where I’m sitting right now or just like those 2 lives lost in the traffic accident a few miles down the road, or any of those lives lost in the hospital just up the road.

I’m not opposed to investigations, but I do not think that tragedy should be used as an excuse to stop all work.  Myself, I prefer investigations that do seek to determine responsibility but more importantly to prevent the same accidents, mistakes, tragedies, malfeasance, or stupid or criminal actions to repeat at another time and place.  I’m not sure if any of the Senate or House investigative or oversight hearings today even care about that aspect.

Why now with the nuclear option?  Isn’t that partisan politics?

My graph isn’t up to the present day, but do you find this trend as productive?

Filibuster and Cloture chart compiled during 1st Session of 112th Congress

Source: Congressional Record

How many bills actually reach the desk of President Obama compared to his predecessors?

Bills signed into law

Source Congressional Record