June 7, 2013
The U.S. Capitol (Alex Wong/Getty Images)
The U.S. Capitol (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Here’s the story: In just a few weeks, we’ll find out whether or not six — six — Republicans will be found to vote for cloture, and therefore get to a final confirmation vote, on: three D.C. Circuit Court nominees; choices for the Labor Department and the EPA; and the nominees for the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau (CFPB), the National Labor Relations Board, and very possibly some other executive and judicial vacancies.

All of these are needed for the government to run smoothly. Republican objections to the contrary are either silly (in the case of the court vacancies) or based on a explicit preference that the government not run smoothly, in the cases of CFPB and other “nullification” filibusters.

Republicans appear, based on Jennifer Bendery’s reporting today, to be unsure what they will do. Remember, it’s fine if they all vote against these nominations on the final confirmation vote; it’s fine if they grandstand against them; it’s fine if they use the nominations to get leverage on the kinds of traditional, relatively minor policy demands senators often have of executive branch agencies; it’s even fine, although historically highly unusual until 2009, if they force a cloture vote and if many Republicans oppose cloture.

If, however, Republicans choose to blockade some or most of these spots, killing nominee after nominee by filibuster, then Democrats will simply have no choice but to revise Senate rules.

Republicans find that shocking:

“They’re talking about a nuclear option? If that happens, this place is going to blow up,” said Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) “What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. I mean, the Democrats will be sorry if they do something like that.”

The 60-vote rule is “one of the things that has made the Senate actually the body that [it] is,” said Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.). “Do away with it, you could make the argument that you lose the United States Senate … I don’t think it’s healthy for either side to not have the rules that are in existence now.”

Coburn stormed off when asked about the prospect of Reid changing filibuster rules.

“I’m not even going to go there,” he said.

They are quite right to be shocked.

It would be a major change in the Senate.

Exactly the way that the creation of the 60-vote Senate, with filibusters on every nomination, was a major change when Republicans initiated it in January 2009.

And the solution is very simple. All Republicans have to do is to return to the way things were before 2009, saving the filibuster for only those measures and nominations on which they have their very strongest objections, and the problem will go away.

It’s up to the Republicans. The 60-vote Senate is unsustainable. Occasional filibusters work just fine. So they need to choose which one they want.