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April 29, 2005

Going "Nu-cu-ler" for Dubuyah

Tony Coppola

      The "nuclear option" . . . What a great name! Someone less politically informed might imagine Bush in a cowboy hat pressing a button to nuke France, Germany, Russia, and maybe Massachusetts. Well, don't worry: the "nuclear option" has nothing to do with missiles, warheads, or even nuclear power plants. Rather, it has to do with the United States Senate and the Republican game plan to end the filibuster. For anybody who doesn't know, the filibuster allows any Senator to speak as long as he or she wants once the floor is yielded to him. It takes sixty Senators to invoke a cloture motion that forces the Senator to yield the floor for the purpose of voting. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and the Senate Republicans have been working for months to draw up a plan to end the filibuster and are just waiting for the right opportunity to do so. If their plan is successful, rather than sixty votes, it would only require fifty-one votes to force a Senator to yield the floor, in reality allowing the majority party to invoke cloture anytime they want.

      Just like nuclear war would transform the world, the "nuclear option" would change the face of the Senate. If the filibuster is changed in order to sweep through judicial nominees, it will set a precedent that the majority party should change the rules every time it cannot pass legislation or get its nominees approved. The filibuster has stalled both legislation and judges. Although it has not always been used for purposes that I agree with, it is an important check on the power of the majority; who can forget the image of Strom Thurmond filibustering for over 24 hours, regarding the Civil Rights Act of 1957?

      The idea that someone can talk as long as he wants in the Senate—unless sixty senators invoke a cloture motion—is one of the ways in which the Senate differs from the House. We have two branches of Congress for a reason, and the Senate has historically been the one to check majority rule; for this reason, the founders originally had Senators indirectly elected. To allow the majority party greater control over debate would be a huge abuse of power by the Republican Party. Hopefully, the Republicans will not be the majority party much longer; if the rules of the filibuster are changed, when the Democrats kick Republicans out of the Senate Majority (we hope), the Republicans will have less power. They will no longer be able to filibuster things like minimum wage bills or civil rights legislation. Why are the Republicans so eager to do this now, if it could lead to an increase in the minimum wage?

      My Senator (and virtual spokesperson for the religious Right), Rick Santorum (R-PA), just about broke down in tears last year over the way the Democrats were playing politics with judicial nominees by using their constitutional right to block them. Amazingly, the Democrats have approved 95% of Bush's judicial nominees—a much greater percentage than the Republicans approved for Clinton. Blocking judicial nominees is not new; but, if the "nuclear option" is used, it may become an antiquated practice.

      The 300-pound elephant in the room in the 2004 presidential election was that the winner would get to appoint anywhere from two to four Supreme Court justices. These measures by the Republican Party lead one to assume that the next Supreme Court appointments will be controversial and will almost definitely overturn Roe v. Wade.

      For the religious Right and Rick Santorum, abortion is the number one issue. Using the "nuclear option" will definitely set Bill Frist—who has incidentally decided not to run for re-election in 2006—up to be the Republican nominee for president in 2008. Even more disturbing, Frist gave a press conference to the religious Right, telling them that the Democrats are anti-faith because they blocked a small percentage of Bush's judicial nominees. Throughout the Bush presidency, the Republicans have treated Democrats as anti-American and anti-religious every time they try to oppose the administration or the Republican Party. The Democrats' job is to ensure that the Republicans, while in power, do not irrevocably harm the country—not to rubber stamp everything the Republican Party does. If the Democrats are ever to show their strength and conviction, the time is now. Ironically, they might have to filibuster a vote to end the filibuster.

Front Page (April 29, 2005)

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