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Opinion: Reid goes nuclear

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Harry Reid led the Senate Democrats to invoke the so-called “nuclear option” last week. The name itself invites an elevated sense of alarm—what has the Senate done? How could they invoke the nuclear option? Are thanks in order to Harry Reid for invoking the nuclear option?

Look at how opposed President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden were just a few years ago. One can find numerous examples of just how terrible an idea they believed the nuclear option to be. But after finding it hard to push through their own appointees, they are all for the 51-vote rule.

In 2005, then Illinois Senator Barack Obama said: “Everyone in this chamber knows, that if the majority chooses to end the filibuster, if they choose to change the rules and put an end to democratic debate, then the fighting and bitterness then the fighting and gridlock will only get worse.”

Biden, in emphatic fashion said: “You cannot change the Senate rules by a pure majority vote,” and “The nuclear option abandons America’s sense of fair play.”

Now, eight years later, they have completed a total reversal, most notably because of the inability to appoint preferred judicial appointees.

A few days ago, Obama said, “I support the step a majority of Senators today took to change the way that Washington is doing business.”

Initially, when examining the practical consequences, it really seems insubstantial.

For those unfamiliar with with the consequences of the recent Senate rule changes, the nuclear option will only require a simple majority of 51 votes in the Senate for a confirmation vote. Previously, 60 votes had been needed. The topic has been broached numerous ties in recent years with Democrats recently holding it over the heads of Republicans in hope of inviting compromise, but the debate this time around has come about as a result of recent frustrations surrounding Appeals Court nominees that have been blocked by Republicans.

Now high-ranking Republicans like Mitch McConnel of Kentucky are decrying the move, lamenting that it discriminates against the minority.

The better question here is: Why was it changed from a simple majority vote in the first place? Holding up a vote for confirmation and an insane amount of filibustering has taken place because of the necessary 60 votes. Just move forward—if there is a majority, the Senate should be able to move forward and ready itself to put the appointees to a vote. If not 50, back to the drawing board. Simple as that. It is not a tyranny of the majority, it is democracy.

One valid criticism of the new rule is this idea of a tyranny of the majority. That the Senate would become the House and the controlling party would render the process insignificant as the majority party would exercise unrestricted power. The comparison is understandable. And it could begin a slippery slope if Senate Democrats are not careful. Senate Republicans could be in the same situation in a short amount of time. Only six seats are needed by the GOP to make this a reality. But this rule should only pertain to filibustering, as a way to ensure that appointees are able to be voted upon. The 60 votes is still a good number for official confirmation.

A minority has been able to continually able to block nominees, which has essentially given the minority party the right to say, “No, we will not let the vote go forth.”

Ultimately, what is most readily apparent is the fact that it all comes down to politics. The minority party does not want the majority party to exercise power. The majority party will give itself the opportunity to best legislate as they see fit. The policy itself holds almost no value without the context of political party.

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