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Senate Dems curb filibuster, risk future problems

By Alan Fram

Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 06:13 a.m. HST, Nov 22, 2013

WASHINGTON » Democrats quickly enjoyed the first fruits of a milestone Senate vote making it harder for the Republican minority to block President Barack Obama's nominations: They swiftly ended a GOP filibuster against one of his top judicial selections and prepared to do the same for two others.

Over the longer term, they might regret what they did and how they did it, Republicans and others are warning.

When Democrats muscled the changes through Thursday over the opposition of every GOP senator, it helped heighten Congress' already high level of partisan animosity. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., used a process that let Democrats unilaterally weaken the filibuster by simple majority vote, rather than the two-thirds margin usually used for major changes in chamber rules, which would have required GOP support.

"If the majority can change the rules, then there are no rules," said veteran Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who has resisted similar changes in the past. "It puts a chill on the entire U.S. Senate."

Such comments suggested a further erosion in the mutual trust the two parties would need to tackle sensitive, large-scale issues like still-massive budget deficits and a tax system overhaul. The tensions also won't help Congress' efforts early next year to avoid another government shutdown and prevent a federal default, twin disputes that the two parties struggled to resolve this fall.

And even though Thursday's change left intact the 60 Senate votes needed to filibuster, or delay, legislation, it raised an obvious question: Might a future Senate majority, hitting obstacles advancing a president's agenda, ram through changes weakening filibusters against bills too?

In control of both the White House and Congress someday, Senate Republicans might be tempted to force a filibuster change to cover legislation and use it, for example, to repeal Obama's health care law.

"I don't think this is a time to be talking about reprisals," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said after the vote. He said later, "The solution to this problem is at the ballot box. We look forward to having a great election in November 2014."

McConnell spoke after the Senate voted 52-48 to allow a simple majority vote to end filibusters, instead of the 60 votes required since 1975. The change affects nominees for top federal agency and judicial appointments, but not Supreme Court justices.

Republicans had warned repeatedly that should they win Senate control, they will happily use the diluted filibuster to win Senate approval for future nominees by GOP presidents that under past standards Democrats might have blocked.

"The silver lining is that there will come a day when the roles are reversed," said Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley, top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee. He warned that when his party wins a Senate majority they likely will apply the 51-vote filibuster threshold to a Republican president's Supreme Court nominees.

"The tyranny of the majority. That's what it's going to be" at some point in the future, predicted Steve Bell, a former top Senate Republican aide who is now a senior director at the Bipartisan Policy Center, which advocates partisan cooperation.

Democrats said GOP delays had gone too far, blocking nominees not for their qualifications or ideology but for political reasons like preventing too many Democrats from serving on a court.

Republicans argued that Democrats have acted similarly to block appointments by GOP presidents and warned they would use Senate rules to their advantage whenever they win control of the chamber.

"We understand all the considerations," Reid said of the risks. "But let's be realistic. What could they do more to slow down the country? What could they do more than what they've already done to stop the Senate from legislating?"

"We'd much prefer the risk of up-or-down votes and majority rule than the risk of continued total obstruction," said New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, the No. 3 Senate Democratic leader.

Immediately after the showdown roll call, senators voted to end GOP delays against attorney Patricia Millett, whom Obama wants to fill one of three vacancies at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The powerful court has jurisdiction over White House and federal agency actions.

Millett will be formally confirmed after the Senate returns from a two-week Thanksgiving recess.

December votes were also planned on District Judge Robert L. Wilkins and law professor Cornelia Pillard, two other Obama choices Republicans had blocked for the D.C. Circuit. That will give judges picked by Democratic presidents a 7-4 edge over those selected by Republicans for that court.

Labor and liberal groups hailed the filibuster curbs, expressing satisfaction that Democrats had finally stood up to the GOP.

"There was no choice," said Nan Aron, president of the liberal coalition Alliance for Justice. "The Republican minority had turned the existing rules into weapons of mass obstruction."

But Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, one of three Democrats who voted against diluting the filibuster, noted that past Democratic minorities have used the procedure to block GOP moves to limit abortion rights and repeal the estate tax.

He said he feared that a future Senate majority would weaken filibusters against legislation and "down the road, the hard-won protections and benefits for our people's health and welfare will be lost."

Associated Press writer Henry C. Jackson contributed to this report.

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LanaUlulani wrote:
Actually this shows how Obama is bad energy abusing unilateral power which adversely affects We the People.

There should be balance including a balance of power. Balance is zen.

Balance is good energy. Obama clearly is not.
on November 22,2013 | 05:27AM
thepartyfirst wrote:
The more radical the POTHUS, the more he has opposition.
on November 22,2013 | 07:08AM
jekat2003 wrote:
Just the latest example of a policy the current Hypocrite in Chief was against while he was a senator and the President was Republican. I guess absolute power is not that bad as long as you're the one in power huh? #PATHETIC.
on November 22,2013 | 07:44AM
palani wrote:
So hypocritical! All of these political hacks, including the President, vehemently objected to any suggestion of imposing the "nuclear option" when the Republicans were in control.
on November 22,2013 | 05:29AM
BluesBreaker wrote:
The Dems did not abuse the filibuster the way the Republicans have. Half of all the filibusters in the Senate's history have taken place since Obama was elected. The DC district court alone has had three. No Republicans even bothered to state a reason why they objected to any of the nominees, they just didn't want the majority of the judges on the court to be appointed by Dems. The whole thing about work load was complete shibai. The Republicans always overplay their hand and end up with results like this.
on November 22,2013 | 10:59AM
kolohepalu wrote:
Exactly- thank you
on November 22,2013 | 12:09PM
9ronboz wrote:
DEMS and Hussein are desperate
on November 22,2013 | 06:01AM
BlueDolphin53 wrote:
What goes around comes around.
on November 22,2013 | 06:30AM
mikethenovice wrote:
Certainly yes, sir.
on November 22,2013 | 06:53AM
Charliegrunt wrote:
Obama and the Democrats will regret the legacy they leave behind. They are trying to change the system and the Constitution that the forefathers instituted and implemented. This country was founded on a system of checks and balances by three branches of government: Administrative, Legislative and Judicial. BO and the Democrats are trying to control all three. Look at BO's last nominees to the Supreme Court: Kagan and Soto-Major; and Harry Reid, his lap dog in the Senate. The Republicans are also to blame. Cheney and Karl Rove did not leave a good taste in the mouth of the electorate in the last administration, and they have failed to provide competitive candidates that gave the electorate hope for desired and acceptable change. BO's legacy will also include his inability to tell the truth and accept responsibility. For over five years now, he's been blaming George W. Bush, whose main fault was that he wasn't our brightest president. That's a whole lot better than BO's legacy.
on November 22,2013 | 06:45AM
HanabataDays wrote:
After Nov. 2014, we WILL control all three and the bullies will be kicked out of the House playpen.
on November 22,2013 | 06:53AM
Pacej001 wrote:
The chance of democrat control in the House in 2014 are zero. The chance of republican control of the senate are greater than zero and growing each day as the Obamacare debacle expands. Payback is going to be a be@tch.
on November 22,2013 | 08:51AM
kolohepalu wrote:
Hawaii will not change. We are BLUE, and most people respect and support Obama- that is the reality.
on November 22,2013 | 12:07PM
kolohepalu wrote:
What a load. The founding fathers had no idea of the power of lobbyists and the capacity of a small group of whiners to hold the government hostage on technicalities. Incidentally- Dubya wasn't only dimwitted- he wrecked the economy and started a war on false pretenses- just those little things.
on November 22,2013 | 12:04PM
DanLBoom wrote:
AUWE!!!Scratching my head....Obama ,Reid Biden, Feinstein were all opposed to this,back in 2005.Ranting or should i say Crying about it. But now......it's the right thing to do??? REALLY ???Are we that stupid . Don't believe me> See !! CSPAN2 4/13/05 pres speech. _Biden on 5/23/05 _Reid on 4/21/05_Feistein on 5/18/05 .Soo...Should the gop take over on the next election what will happen then?? IMUA
on November 22,2013 | 06:46AM
Ronin006 wrote:
DanLBoom, you are correct. Obama, Biden and other leading Democrats who were opposed to changing the rules in 2005 when Republicans controlled the Senate are not worried about political fallout from yesterday’s flip-flop because they know the majority of people upon whom the depend for votes are apolitical, totally uninformed, probably living on the government dole and will vote Democrat no matter who is running or what the issues may be.
on November 22,2013 | 07:11AM
cojef wrote:
In addition, B. Obama during his campaign, espoused that as a Constitutional scholar which he taught for 10 years, it was against Constitution for a President to resort to executive orders. Yet in the last 5 months, he has used executive orders, (1) to grant businesses another year to comply with "Obamacare", plus(2) Labor special exemption, and (3) promised a waiver on cancellation of policies by the insurance carrriers. He also spoke against the changing the Senate Rules as junior Senator from Illinois. Believe Feinstein who voted for changing the rules, actually remarked back in 2005 that, "it's unAmerican to change the Senate Rules". Wow, a bunch of hypocrites!!!
on November 22,2013 | 08:01AM
HanabataDays wrote:
What was torpedoed was not the true filibuster, but the "Fauxlibusters" that the GOP has been using as their primary weapon to obstruct the filling of appointments -- iincluding judges, excluding the Supremes. Filibusters are like fire extinguishers: they have a specific use. Suppose you bought a fire extinguisher, and instead of saving it for a fire, your keiki played around squirting each other with it all the time, so every time you checked it -- it was empty. We are fed up with all these positions remaining empty for so long, and it's time to hide the fire extinguisher from the kids. That simple, that straightforward.
on November 22,2013 | 06:52AM
thepartyfirst wrote:
Dumb Democrats don't know what the hell their doing. This will not happen.
on November 22,2013 | 10:20AM
mikethenovice wrote:
The Democrats are the Republican Whisper. Down Boy. Down Republicans. Get back into your foxhole.
on November 22,2013 | 06:53AM
JAFO wrote:
Now the Democratic Party can begin stacking the deck with more Liberals! A lot of three dollar bills going around in DC.
on November 22,2013 | 06:56AM
ISCREAM wrote:
What nobody seems to recognize is that we are very likely to now have a more polarized court system with Presidents from both parties shoving through more radical judges than ever before...stacking the courts....leading to more appeals, more court gridlock and greater costs...further we will probably see more legislating from the bench than ever before. The sixty vote threshold served to moderate judicial temperance. It should also be noted that Senator Reid would not have done this without President Obama's concurrence....
on November 22,2013 | 06:58AM
ISCREAM wrote:
What nobody seems to recognize is that we are very likely to now have a more polarized court system with Presidents from both parties shoving through more radical judges than ever before...stacking the courts....leading to more appeals, more court gridlock and greater costs...further we will probably see more legislating from the bench than ever before. The sixty vote threshold served to moderate judicial temperance. It should also be noted that Senator Reid would not have done this without President Obama's concurrence....
on November 22,2013 | 07:18AM
ISCREAM wrote:
Another thing most people are confusing...a filibuster does not always end in a rejection of a nominee...President Obama has had 77% of his judicial nominees approved...compared to 79% for Clinton and 85% for Bush...
on November 22,2013 | 08:22AM
Poplm wrote:
“One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back.” ― Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark
on November 22,2013 | 07:47AM
st1d wrote:
dumb rats.
on November 22,2013 | 09:05AM
krusha wrote:
About time they did that. Filibusters should be rarely used, yet every single issue is getting filibustered by the right, pretty much stagnating anything in the Senate from getting through.
on November 22,2013 | 09:23AM
thepartyfirst wrote:
How would you like it if a vast majority of appoinments were right or center right? Not too good eh? This filibuster curb is strictly a move for the Left at this moment. And at this moment it is not what's right or what's best for the Country but what's best for the Democrat Party. This is why I do not trust the Democrats.
on November 22,2013 | 10:27AM
st1d wrote:
dumber rat.
on November 22,2013 | 01:47PM
thepartyfirst wrote:
st1d: ?
on November 22,2013 | 02:36PM
st1d wrote:
aimed at krushev, not the party of the first part.
on November 22,2013 | 10:32PM
Pacej001 wrote:
Understatement of the month: That the democrat's actions "risk future problems". Ending the filibuster in order to pack the DC court has kicked open the door to outright political warfare, as was done with the party line vote on Obamacare, as was done with 5 years without national budgets, and as has been done with Obama's campaign of juvenile vilification of political opponents.------- Just one thing you democrats need to remember: that which can be done with a simple majority can now be undone by the same. We're about to see a very nasty turn in American politics and you will have caused it.
on November 22,2013 | 09:31AM
AhiPoke wrote:
If you ddn't think our political system was already broken, how do you feel about it now? This is the nuclear option exercised, effectively a declaration of war. All citizens will be the losers. It's time to vote our all incumbant politicians.
on November 22,2013 | 10:15AM
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