New Castle News


November 26, 2013

Our Opinion: Senate Democrats use ‘nuclear option’ and moderation is the victim

NEW CASTLE — Last week’s decision by Senate Democrats to limit use of the filibuster will widen Washington’s partisan divide.

Democrats argue they had good reason to end the practice of blocking votes on judicial and executive branch nominees — and they are right. Republicans have shown an increasing willingness to abuse the filibuster to prevent the filling of these positions.

Yet this is a practice that has been growing worse over the years, and both parties have been at fault. When you are in the minority and the political climate is highly charged, the power of the filibuster can be very attractive.

For quite some time now, Democrats have been warning they were prepared to employ the so-called “nuclear option” to limit the use of filibusters. (The minority party will still have the ability to block Supreme Court nominees and various legislative actions if it chooses.)

Statistics show a sharp increase in the number of nominations by President Obama that have been stalled by filibuster. This is what pushed Senate Democrats to act last week.

Presumably, this will speed up the nomination process. Whether it puts prudent people into positions of authority is a much broader question.

And we fully expect Republicans to respond by any means at their disposal. They will no doubt rail against Democrats and use the change in filibuster rules as a campaign theme in 2014. They also are likely to employ their remaining filibuster powers to delay other legislative activities — assuming things can go even slower in Washington than they already do.

More to the point, however, is the fact this change cuts both ways. Eventually, Republicans are going to regain control of the Senate. When that happens, Democrats may come to regret this move to limit filibusters.

Still, we can’t say we are surprised by Senate Democrats’ move. With partisanship dominating the political scene in Washington, notions of civility and accommodation find it increasingly difficult to attain traction. In this climate, it was probably only a matter of time before the majority party in the Senate opted to boost its power by weakening filibuster rules.

The filibuster has had a checkered past. While it has been used to thwart social progress, it is more commonly employed as a tool to protect the influence of the minority party and force compromise.

Yet with compromise becoming a dying art, perhaps the filibuster is outliving some of its usefulness. But let’s be clear: Last week’s move by the Senate is a blow against political moderation. And while it may empower one party over another, in the end it will hurt America as a whole.

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