IN THE SPRING of 2005, Senate Democrats were in an uproar. Republicans, infuriated over what they perceived as the Democratic minority’s abuses of the filibuster to block judicial nominees, were threatening to deploy the so-called nuclear option: changing the filibuster rules by a simple majority vote, rather than requiring the 67 votes ordinarily required for a rules change.
In the end, the explosion was defused, with an agreement brokered by the so-called Gang of 14 not to filibuster judges except in extraordinary circumstances.
Now, the tables are turned. Democrats are in the majority and chafing at Republican abuse of the filibuster. What was once a sparingly used tactic has become almost routine. The number of cloture motions filed to end debate, a rough measure of the number of filibusters, rose from 68 in the 109th Congress to 139 in the 110th and 110 in the current, 112th. And Mr. Reid, now majority leader, is threatening, when the new Congress convenes next year, to deploy the nuclear option he once decried. Mr. McConnell, now minority leader, took preemptively to the Senate floor Wednesday to denounce “this majoritarian power grab” he once described as routine. When it comes to the filibuster, consistency has never been either party’s strong point.
As we said seven years ago, the filibuster has been abused and is in need of reform. As we also said, using the nuclear option is the wrong way to achieve those changes. The changes to the filibuster Mr. Reid is contemplating are rather restrained; if anything, they would go not far enough. These include eliminating the minority’s ability to filibuster the motion to proceed to legislation.
Mr. McConnell — that is, Mr. McConnell of 2012 — is on stronger ground when he warns about setting a dangerous “precedent for breaking the rules to change the rules that our Democratic colleagues will have to endure when they are next in the minority.” Before going nuclear, Mr. Reid ought to try, again, to negotiate. Surely the two leaders could craft a set of bipartisan rules changes that would ease gridlock while being tolerable to whatever side, in a future Congress, finds itself in the minority.
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