Parties exchange arguments over "nuclear option"

With a major showdown looming over the "nuclear option" and whether the filibuster should be banned against nominations to the Executive Branch, Senators this week are on the verge of making a fundamental change in the way the Senate works.

But if you dig down into this debate, you will quickly see that each party has been on each side of this issue in recent years.

Eight years ago in 2005, it was Republicans threatening the use of the nuclear option, in order to get rid of the filibuster with its 60 vote supermajority.

Back then, GOP leaders were furious and frustrated that Democrats were delaying judicial nominees of President George W. Bush.

While Republicans expressed their outrage and threatened the nuclear option to change the rules, Democrats defended the use of the filibuster as an integral tool to protect the Senate's minority party.

Fast forward to 2013 and it is Democrats who are furious and frustrated that Republicans are delaying the nominees of President Barack Obama.

As Democrats have expressed their outrage and threatened the nuclear option to change the rules, Republicans defended the use of the filibuster as an integral tool to protect the Senate's minority party.

So here is your handy-dandy Congressional bottom line:

All that's basically happened is the two sides have exchanged arguments - because the 2005 majority is now in the minority and the 2005 minority is now in the majority in the Senate.

From the leaders of both parties on down, the Congressional Record is over flowing with examples of saying-the-opposite-of-what-you-said-in-2005.

In other words - you love the filibuster when you are in minority, but when you are in the majority, or your party controls the White House, the filibuster needs to be reined in.

So What?

Let's assume that Democrats go ahead and change the rules by simple majority vote instead of the usual two-thirds needed; "So what?" you ask.  (Most people aren't sitting at home worried about whether the rules of the Senate are changed by a simple majority vote or not obviously.)

This change being floated today by Democrats would basically mean that when a President nominates someone to an administration post, it would be tantamount to final approval; the only way that nominee could be stopped is on a straight up-or-down vote. Any filibuster could be broken with just 51 votes, instead of the 60 needed now.

For many Senators, that is a good thing - it would allow a President to install an administrative team, and not have to wait for the Senate perform its constitutional role of "advise and consent."

Sounds great if your party is in power - but what if the other side is running the show?

If you don't have to worry about the filibuster on executive branch nominations, then President Obama could (in theory) pick someone who is very liberal - and not have to worry about a giant nomination fight.

But that also means at some point in the future, a Republican President could (in theory) pick someone who is very conservative and not have to worry about the Senate getting in the way either.

Democrats can't stand the thought of Tea Party Republicans - but - what if the GOP were to win the White House in 2016, and then could push through anyone to a job in the Executive Branch?

Many also wonder whether the end of the filibuster on Executive Branch nominees is just the start of even more historic change in the Senate - that soon enough the filibuster would be banned on judicial nominees and ultimately on legislation as well.

In other words, the Senate would become the House. If you have a one vote majority you can do whatever you want.

It's a great idea if your party is in charge.

But is it really a good idea if the other side is running the show?

Senate Democrats seem ready to test that out, even though a few years ago they were hotly opposed to the idea of the nuclear option.

"Everyone in this chamber knows that if the majority chooses to end the filibuster, if they choose to change the rules and put an end to democratic debate, then the fighting, the bitterness, and the gridlock will only get worse," said one Democrat.

Who was that?

That was Barack Obama in 2005, when he opposed the nuclear option as did the rest of his party.

But that was then, and this is now.

On both sides of the aisle.

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