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SPOTLIGHT
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Senate rules

Published on -11/27/2013, 9:28 AM

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Somewhat reflective of the uncooperative ways of Washington, D.C., Senate Democrats last week opted for the so-called nuclear option when it comes to presidential appointments. They simply were tired of having every executive nomination tied up with procedural rules that prevented qualified candidates from getting confirmation hearings in the full chamber.

So the majority Democrats rewrote the rules on filibusters. Instead of needing 60 senators to end delays on nominations, the rule change simply requires 51. The move will help President Barack Obama fill open positions in the short term.

In the long run, things could get even nastier in the nation's capital.

"If the majority can change the rules, then there are no rules," said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

For a country with a strong tradition of preventing tyranny of the majority, watering down the filibuster's effectiveness appears at odds.

In ways, we can appreciate the frustration of the Senate Democrats. Since Obama took office, 79 individuals have been blocked from taking posts selected for them by the president. In the entire history of the United States prior to Obama, a total of 68 presidential appointments were blocked. And not a single Republican is pretending there are questions about the qualifications of the nominees.

Such statistics are sad commentary on the heightened state of gridlock in Washington.

Yet the very move that unclogs the nomination pipeline likely will come back to haunt these same Democrats. Republicans have promised as much.

"The silver lining is that there will come a day when the roles are reversed," said Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley, top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Currently, the new procedural change only applies to top federal agency and judicial appointments. Nominations to the U.S. Supreme Court are not affected.

But that could change. It could still change anytime prior to the 2014 mid-term elections and if Obama had an opening to fill on the nation's highest court, another amendment to the rule could get his selection seated rather quickly.

Or perhaps worse could be the next time there is a single party controlling the White House and both houses of Congress. Are filibusters of bills any more or less sacred than filibusters of appointments?

We are not sure what would have been a better solution to ward off an obstructionist party, but altering the power accorded to minority parties is not the answer. We might not see it right away, but the potential for abuse by a mere majority in the future is far greater than any filibuster abuse taking place today.

Editorial by Patrick Lowry

plowry@dailynews.net

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