Saturday, November 23, 2013

Majority Leader Harry Reid: 'Destroying the Rights of the Minority Party'

The floor comments from Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) on the Democrats' repeal of the filibuster on judicial nominees.

More from James Taranto, at the Wall Street Journal, "The Senate Gets MAD":
The end of the filibuster entails a serious diminution of the Senate's power vis-à-vis the president and the House. As we observed this July, the Senate's power consists largely in its ability to withhold consent from both House-passed legislation and presidential actions (nominations and treaties). Thus majority rule enhances the power of the majority party at the expense of every individual senator, regardless of party.

As the Senate has become more partisan, and members elected during an earlier age have retired or died, concern for the Senate's institutional power has diminished. Yesterday's third Democratic dissenter, Carl Levin of Michigan, is one of only three remaining Democratic senators first elected before 1984.

But there's also a partisan incentive for restraint: A change in rules to benefit today's majority party will also benefit the other party the next time it is in the majority. It's called the "nuclear option" because it entails mutually assured destruction of the rules that benefit the minority. If the Republicans had gone nuclear in 2005, the Democrats would have reaped the benefit in 2009.

Once the filibuster is gone, it's as good as forever gone. There is no incentive for any majority party to reinstate it. Nor is there any reason to expect that future majorities will respect what's left of it. If a Democratic minority in 2017 tries to filibuster a Republican Supreme Court nominee, the Republicans will surely follow yesterday's precedent. The legislative filibuster may prove more robust, but one suspects our hypothetical Republican majority would abolish it if that's what it takes to repeal ObamaCare.

What's peculiar about the timing of the Democrats' decision is that it comes just when the partisan risk of abolishing the filibuster has been heightened. As the Washington Post's Ezra Klein acknowledges:
There's a lot of upside for Republicans in how this went down. It came at a time when Republicans control the House and are likely to do so for the duration of President Obama's second term, so the weakening of the filibuster will have no effect on the legislation Democrats can pass. The electoral map, the demographics of midterm elections, and the political problems bedeviling Democrats make it very likely that Mitch McConnell will be majority leader come 2015 and then he will be able to take advantage of a weakened filibuster. And, finally, if and when Republicans recapture the White House and decide to do away with the filibuster altogether, Democrats won't have much of an argument when they try to stop them.
"The political problems bedeviling Democrats" is a marvelous bit of understatement. The abject failure of ObamaCare has made the prospect of a Republican Senate in 2015 and a Republican president in 2017 much likelier. Thus even from a purely partisan standpoint, rational Democrats would have been more cautious about invoking the nuclear option when they did than at just about any other time in the past five years.
Well, Democrats are desperate.

And they'll rue the day they caved to short-term partisan incentives. And that day will come sooner than they think, in the words of Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.