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Democrats’ “Nuclear Option” Logic: Formalizing Thoughtlessness

President Obama’s public statement yesterday about the Democrats eliminating the filibuster for their agenda items so as to further purge minority input was, as usual, deceptively revealing. It’s not that the president said anything intelligent or edifying in itself; his grasp on the details of policy isn’t strong enough to educate the public. Additionally, this particular episode is really quite simple.

When the Democrats were in the minority, they broke the accepted norms of the Senate to block a circuit court nominee they didn’t like. Recently, Republicans employed that same tactic on President Obama, so Harry Reid escalated the fight by breaking even more important norms of the Senate. This has been the pattern throughout Reid’s time as Democratic Senate leader: introduce an innovation designed to undermine the Senate’s rules and integrity, and then when Republicans return the favor simply find some other way to erode any check on his power.

And that, in turn, is at the center of this: power. When Barack Obama was in the Senate and the Republican majority threatened to employ this “nuclear option,” then-senator, now-hypocrite Obama said this:

What [Americans] don’t expect is for one party – be it Republican or Democrat – to change the rules in the middle of the game so that they can make all the decisions while the other party is told to sit down and keep quiet. … I sense that talk of the nuclear option is more about power than about fairness. I believe some of my colleagues propose this rules change because they can get away with it rather than because they know it’s good for our democracy.

Obama’s support for the nuclear option now is understandable: his legacy, after all, will be what he did as president, not senator. Reid, on the other hand, will have left behind an institution barely recognizable as the one he joined a quarter-century ago. Obama was part of that institution for about five minutes before he geared up to run for president, so he has no intellectual or emotional attachment to the Senate.

But what was revealing about what Obama said yesterday was not the hypocrisy–something that has been a hallmark of his political career and especially his presidency. It was when he said this:

Now, I want to be clear, the Senate has actually done some good bipartisan work this year.  Bipartisan majorities have passed common-sense legislation to fix our broken immigration system and upgrade our courts — our ports.  It’s passed a farm bill that helps rural communities and vulnerable Americans.  It’s passed legislation that would protect Americans from being fired based on their sexual orientation.  So we know that there are folks there, Republican and Democrat, who want to get things done.  And, frankly, privately they’ve expressed to me their recognition that the system in the Senate had broken down, and what used to be a sporadic exercise of the filibuster had gotten completely out of hand.

In other words, the Senate is basically working and the president knows it. Its role as a deliberative body has not stopped it from passing major bipartisan legislation on even complicated and divisive issues, as the president admits. The president took no questions after his statement yesterday because his position is frankly indefensible, which he seems to recognize. (And possibly his disastrous press conference on ObamaCare last week has convinced him that when he goes off-script he swiftly loses all coherence.) But had he taken a question, he might have been asked about the most obvious refutation of his new support for a less thoughtful Senate: his signature “achievement.”

Indeed it is appropriate that the two coincide. We are currently dealing with the latest major wave of disastrous effects on the country’s economy and health care inflicted by ObamaCare. What happens when the “world’s greatest deliberative body” is turned into a partisan weapon? We get bills like ObamaCare. Politico now reports:

Veteran House Democratic aides are sick over the insurance prices they’ll pay under Obamacare, and they’re scrambling to find a cure.

“In a shock to the system, the older staff in my office (folks over 59) have now found out their personal health insurance costs (even with the government contribution) have gone up 3-4 times what they were paying before,” Minh Ta, chief of staff to Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.), wrote to fellow Democratic chiefs of staff in an email message obtained by POLITICO. “Simply unacceptable.”

That would be the Gwen Moore who voted for ObamaCare. Moore serves in the House, but it’s much the same in the Senate. This is a symptom of the broader problem with ObamaCare. Democrats are claiming they didn’t know the bill does what it does–witness the frantic Democratic response to the evaporation of all the major promises used to pass the bill. Now, they’re either lying when they say they didn’t know what was in the bill they voted for, or they’re admitting that they have no idea what they’re doing when they cast votes, and are just following orders from the White House and Harry Reid.

Here’s Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu announcing her bill earlier this month that if you like your plan, you can keep it–to fix Obama’s false promise. Yet ObamaCare was plainly crafted to ensure that people would lose their insurance. And Landrieu voted for it. Then in September 2010 Landrieu helped the Democrats kill a GOP resolution that would have prevented many of those cancellations. Did she not read ObamaCare? Did she not read the 2010 resolution?

If there’s anything wrong with the Senate in the age of Obama and Reid, it’s that Democrats are desperately in need of rules that would slow debate and encourage deliberation, now more than ever. Instead, they’re moving in the opposite direction, because, as the president himself said, that’s where the power is.



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