The Norman Transcript

Columns

July 17, 2013

Senate in for a showdown

NORMAN — Harry Reid needs to be careful what he wishes for.

As the old saying goes, he just may get it.

Reid, as Senate majority leader, has been frustrated in recent years by the limited success of the Democratic agenda in his chamber. Republicans have repeatedly taken advantage of Senate rules to thwart action.

Reid no doubt looks with envy at the situation in the GOP-controlled House, where virtually everything is handled by simple majority rule. In the Senate, however, many votes — such as those to overcome filibusters — require super majorities, 60 votes instead of 51. This gives Republicans the power to block many actions.

In many ways, these rules reflect the Senate’s reputation as the world’s greatest deliberative body. In the past, minority power in the Senate has proven to be a useful way to promote bipartisanship in key areas.

Unfortunately, that’s no longer the case. Instead, the rules have deteriorated to the point that the minority frequently blocks any action it can. The reason may have nothing to do with philosophical concerns, but rather simply because it’s possible.

Reid is talking about changing certain aspects of Senate rules to weaken the minority’s power. Specifically, he wants to allow simple majority votes on certain presidential nominations. This would not include federal judges, but appointments to federal agencies that require Senate confirmation.

Reid argues the existing roadblocks damage Congress’ reputation. “Our approval rating is lower than North Korea’s,” he said over the weekend.

Not surprisingly, Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Republican minority leader, is attacking Reid’s plan, charging it would “change the core of the Senate.” Yet last week, his party agreed to allow some of Obama’s stalled nominees to be approved.

It may be that Reid is making this threat to force Republicans to be more judicious in the nominations they block. If so, it may be a prudent tactic on his part. But if he goes forward with his plan — and Democrats have the ability to change the rules — it will indeed, as McConnell claims, alter the Senate’s dynamic.

Plus, it could be the start of a larger move to weaken the power of the minority in the Senate. If Democrats see benefits in restricting minority power for some votes, why not take away their ability to block judicial nominations and other major appointments?

— New Castle, Pa., News

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