Filibuster: Exchanging Scripts Again

With the Democrats holding a slim majority in the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid is making noise about doing away with the filibuster, or reforming it in some way, to prevent the minority from blocking votes on legislation as long as they can get 40 votes to continue debate. So let’s set the wayback machine for 2003-2005, when Republicans had control of the Senate and Majority Leader Bill Frist was talking about invoking the “nuclear option” to get rid of the filibuster and the Democrats were throwing a fit about it. Like this:

Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, Connecticut Democrat, said it is a “huge mistake” to change the filibuster rule.

“This rule is important as well because it forces Democrats and Republicans to work together, to come to consensus. If you abandon this rule, then you’ll find even more partisanship, in my view, in the United States Senate,” he told interviewers on CBS’ “Face The Nation.”

Mr. Dodd “warned” Republicans that changing the rule could allow Democrats to stack the federal judiciary in the future.

“I wonder if people in some of the states in the South, for instance, are going to be terribly happy when a Democrat president, a Democratic president sitting there, virtually deciding for him- or herself who the federal judges will be out of that state, because you’ll no longer have to consult with the senators from those states, as you do today.”

And this:

Republicans say that Democrats have abused the filibuster by blocking 10 of the president’s 229 judicial nominees in his first term — although confirmation of Bush nominees exceeds in most cases the first-term experience of presidents dating to Ronald Reagan. Describing the filibusters as intolerable, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) has hinted he may resort to an unusual parliamentary maneuver, dubbed the “nuclear option,” to thwart such filibusters.

“One way or another, the filibuster of judicial nominees must end,” he said in a speech to the Federalist Society last month, labeling the use of filibusters against judicial nominees a “formula for tyranny by the minority.”

So far, at least, Democrats are refusing to forgo filibusters and say they will fight any effort by Frist to act unilaterally to end them for judicial nominations. They warn that it could poison the well for bipartisan cooperation on other issues in the upcoming Congress.

“If they, for whatever reason, decide to do this, it’s not only wrong, they will rue the day they did it, because we will do whatever we can do to strike back,” incoming Senate Democratic leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.) said last week. “I know procedures around here. And I know that there will still be Senate business conducted. But I will, for lack of a better word, screw things up.”…

Republicans counter that, even though the number of filibustered nominations is small, the Democrats are trampling on the Constitution by denying a straight up-or-down vote for even a single nomination. The Constitution, they note, requires two-thirds majorities for treaties, constitutional amendments and other specific matters but calls for only the “advice and consent” of the Senate on judicial choices, with no reference to any super-majority for confirmation.

Democrats disagree, arguing that the Constitution empowers Congress to set its own rules of operation and does not specify the size of a majority needed for judicial confirmations because the issue was to be left to the Senate to decide. “What about all these people who say they want a literal reading of the Constitution?” asked Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), a member of the Judiciary Committee.

And this:

Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean says Republicans are fixing to “blow up 200 years of Senate history” just because they’re not getting their way on a handful of “radical” judicial nominees.

And this:

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER: It would turn the United States Senate, everything all of us have worked for and worked in, into a legislative wasteland…

SEN. HARRY REID: In order to break down the separation of powers and ram through their appointees to the judicial branch, President Bush and the Republican leadership want to eliminate a 200-year-old American rule saying that every member of the Senate can rise to say their piece and speak on behalf of the people who sent them here.

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