Greatest Deliberative Body

Rich Galen

7/17/2013 9:10:00 AM - Rich Galen

The national press corps held its collective breath on Monday night as members of the United States Senate wrangled over whether the holiest of holies -- the filibuster rule -- would be changed or scrapped altogether by the 55 Democrats in the majority.

This is known as the "nuclear option" and it is generally threatened by the Majority Leader -- Republican or Democrat -- when the Minority Leader -- Republican or Democrat -- successfully uses the existing filibuster rules to slow progress on legislation or nominations to a crawl.

The modern version of a filibuster can be broken if the majority can muster 60 votes. As the AP's Dave Espo wrote:

"While a simple majority vote is required to confirm Presidential appointees, it takes 60 votes to end delaying tactics and proceed to a yes-or-no vote."

Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) has been very good at getting under Democratic Leader Harry Reid's (D-Nev) skin by holding up all sorts of bills and nominations.

But before you cluck-cluck at the Republicans, let's think back to 2005, when Democrats in the minority did exactly the same thing, which led then-Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn) to contemplate the exact same "nuclear option" that Senator Reid was threatening earlier this week.

There is a old saying that only two people understand British monetary policy: A minor clerk in the Bank of England and the Chancellor of the Exchequer … and they don't agree.

That's sort of the situation with the U.S. Senate. There are written rules, there are unwritten rules, there are written rules that have unwritten subtexts, and all this is understood only by a long-time waitress in the Senators' Dining Room and the Senate Parliamentarian … and they don't agree.

I have been around the U.S. Capitol building for most of my life. I have worked on both the House side and the Senate side. In every case, whichever party was in the minority bleated piteously that they were being treated badly by the unscrupulous, unfair, and underhanded majority.

In the House the rules are different. If I have one more vote than you, I get everything: I get to be the Speaker, I appoint every Committee and Subcommittee chairman, I control the schedule and I control the rules under which bills come to the floor.

No filibusters. No delaying tactics. No nuclear options. In the conciliatory words of President Barack Obama: "I won, you lost."

The amazing thing about this was that I don't think a single person outside the Washington Beltway -- maybe no one beyond what used to be called Zone 1 when we had taxicab zones -- cared a bit about any of this.

Nuclear option? Because you can pass legislation with a simple majority? This, by you, is nuclear?

Once in a while the DC-based press corps should run out to the countryside and ask people staring at their grocery bill or watching the gasoline pump whether they think the worst thing in the world is the Senate's "Nuclear Option."

Here's what I think: If you get more votes than the other team you win. You don't you lose.

If you don't like losing then stop nominating people who have to spend money in their campaign ads assuring voters that they are not a witch. Or that women don't get pregnant from being raped. Or any of a number of other boneheaded statements that cost the GOP about six seats over the past four years.

One of the problems with the Senate is so many Senators came out of the House, where they don't consider a colleague on the other side of the aisle a political opponent; they consider him or her to be an enemy.

They have brought that brutishness with them across the Rotunda and turned the "World's Greatest Deliberative Body" into the "World's Most Expensive Playpen."

Maybe we need a unanimous consent agreement for a Senatorial time-out.