Reporting Tim Kephart
Legislative Session Coverage
WASHINGTON (CBSMiami) – The U.S. Senate may be preparing to enter uncharted territory as obstructionism may finally force the so-called “nuclear option.”
The nuclear option refers to changing the Senate rules with a majority vote in order to prevent filibusters. Republicans have put out more filibusters of nominees and bills since President Barack Obama has been in office than any time in U.S. history.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has threatened to invoke the nuclear option that was first brought to the table several years ago when President George W. Bush was in office. At that time, Bush’s judicial nominees were being held up by filibusters, and then Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell planned to utilize the nuclear option.
The filibuster itself is a Senate tradition and is not actually in the U.S. Constitution. Technically, the only actions that require more than a majority vote in the Senate are: impeachment, expelling a Congressman, overriding a veto of a bill or order, ratifying treaties, and amending the Constitution.
The filibuster’s purpose is simple: to protect the minority party from simply being overrun by the majority party. At one point in time, it was rarely invoked, used only 16 times between 1840 and 1900, according to the Post.
But since President Obama took office in 2009, instead of majority votes in the Senate, nearly every bill or nominee has had to have a supermajority of 60 votes to get past the U.S. Senate. From 2009-2010, there were more than 130 filibusters.
Since 2007, the Republican minority has used the filibuster to kill legislation or nominees more than 380 times. Senator Harry Reid, the majority leader, said he has had to deal with 400 filibusters since taking over the senior chamber.
“The status quo cannot work,” Reid said Monday. “What [Republicans] have done is really unbelievable. They’ve carried this to the extreme. You can’t reward bad behavior over and over and over again. This is really a moment in history when circumstances dictate the need for change.”
The danger for Reid and fellow Senate Democrats is what could happen if they invoke the nuclear option on nominees if the Democrats lose power in the Senate. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has threatened to go nuclear on everything if Democrats do it on presidential nominees.
Reid could put the nuclear option into play as early as this week when he puts forth the nominations of several agencies, including the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. If Republicans filibuster the nominees, which they’ve vowed to prevent any nominee from the CFPB until they can strip it of any power, then Reid may go nuclear, figuratively speaking.
Both sides are expected to meet Monday night to discuss the nominees and strike a compromise. However, given the toxicity in Washington right now, that may not be possible. If it’s not and the Senate changes the rules, it could fundamentally reshape how laws are passed for generations.