Chris Cilliza wrote a post yesterday warning Democrats to be careful about changing the filibuster rules as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is considering for nominations to cabinet and agency positions. He says that if Democrats change the rules now just for those positions, expect Republicans to take it a step further if they take control of the chamber in 2014:
But, politics works on the slippery slope principle. That means that if Democrats cross the line to change a rule to benefit them when they are in the majority, it sets a precedent for rule-changing that is not limited to filibusters on agency and cabinet nominees in future Senates — including those controlled by Republicans.
This may entirely be true, but I still think Harry Reid should go nuclear. Why? Because if the GOP takes control of the upper chamber in the midterm elections, they may change the rules anyway. Republicans have been clamoring for years about the oppressive regime of Barack Obama. If they keep the House and take the Senate next year, but Senate Democrats begin filibustering every piece of legislation, do you think they are just going to accept defeat as Democrats have? I’m very skeptical of that. The Tea Party base will rally in a hurry and demand that Republicans fix the filibuster. After all, Democratic obstruction in the Senate would just become an extension of the authoritarian stranglehold Obama has on the legislative process. Whether or not Reid decides to change the rules now, he should at least work under the expectation that Republicans are going to strongly consider changing the rules in the future anyways.
But there’s also a more simple reason to change the rules: when you’re in office, govern. I think it was Michael Grunwald who tweeted this a ways back (I can’t find it now), but it’s stuck with me. It’s why I think Democrats should (and have) compromised on immigration reform. When you have the presidency, use it. When you have the Senate, use it. President Obama has inexplicably been historically slow at nominating judges. That fault lies entirely on him (and Senator Leahy). The confirmation process has been just as slow. But there are other positions (NLRB spots, CFPB head Richard Cordray) that Republicans have filibustered simply because they don’t like the agencies. Sorry, that’s not how government works. If you don’t like an agency, pass legislation to amend it or abolish it. Don’t filibuster the heads of those departments to prevent them from operating. That’s just as illegal as President Obama’s regulatory end-around on the employer mandate.
The President took a chance in “recess” appointing his NLRB nominations and Cordray, but one court has already ruled that Obama overstepped his authority with the NLRB appointments and others will follow. That puts all of the agencies’ current actions in jeopardy. It’s long past time the GOP gave them an up or down vote. If the President cannot fill simple vacancies like these, then government cannot function. Republicans will just refuse to confirm the leaders of any agency they dislike. That’s not how government works and the Reid must finally stand up and say, “Enough is enough. Give us a vote or get out of our way. You can do what you when you’re in power and see what happens, but right now we have control.”
The NLRB and CFPB deserve to operate with the full-extent of their powers.
President Obama and Harry Reid should listen to Grunwald: When you’re in office, govern.