Shelby Gambit Highlights Need for Changes To Senate Rules

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Shelby Gambit Highlights Need for Changes To Senate Rules

Firedoglake – While all the hoopla over Richard Shelby’s hostage situation is a little overhyped – if not him, some other Republican would have held each and every one of these nominees – it does amount to what you would call a “teachable moment” about the dysfunctional Senate. Anyone who thinks that the fillibuster is merely a protection of minority rights need only look at the Shelby blanket hold. It is the manifestation of a Parliamentary era of ideological rigidity combined with a supermajority process of veto points, along with a political system that rewards the minority for frustrating a majority. It’s a formula for American decline, to put it as simply as possible. We are all Colorado Springs now.

You’re finally starting to see the White House dip their toe in the water on the question of whether to fix the broken Senate. Vice President Biden, himself a creature of the Senate for 36 years, is willing to discuss reform.

Robert Gibbs yesterday started talking about up or down votes for political appointees. And the White House blog posted a case study of Martha Johnson, the new head of the GSA, who was confirmed by a 96-0 count, nine months after she was nominated for the position.

I understand the desire to cast this as radical and new and different, and to an extent it is. But the supermajority filibuster, in the case of political nominees, serves basically no function. The President is entitled to his own staff, and I think you’d get 90% support for that proposition if posed to the country.

Indeed, the problem is the US Senate itself. Sherrod Brown talks about in the above clip following Tom Udall’s lead on changing the Senate rules at the beginning of the next Congress, and taking a year-long effort to educate members and the public about the dysfunctional rules. For some that’s too long to wait. Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) told me on Monday that the Senate should simply enact what was called “the nuclear option” to set a precedent for majority-rule votes (explanation here). “The Senate is paralyzed, it can’t do anything, and that helps conservatives, who by and large don’t want to do anything, more than liberals,” Nadler said. “We could change it if we use the nuclear option, but Democrats won’t because they’re unwilling to use such drastic measures.”

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