Late Wednesday afternoon, Senate Republicans invoked the “nuclear option” to reduce debate time on most presidential nominees from 30 hours to two hours. It is called the nuclear option because it is seen as an aggressive move that will have ramifications going into the future. To fully understand the significance of the nuclear option being invoked, we need to look to our history.|
Though the United States government was set up as a democratic republic, it was created with systems in place to prevent the tyranny of the majority and protect the rights of the minority. The function of the Senate is and has been since its inception to essentially provide a space for minority interests to be heard and accommodated. The Senate also functions as a moderate body, as opposed to the House, which is able to push through majority-backed legislation easily.
Under traditional Senate rules, senators are able to filibuster legislation, which means that senators of the minority party could stall a bill to ensure that both sides were adequately heard before the Senate votes. The way a filibuster worked was simple: A bill could not move forward if a senator was speaking on the floor. In 1917, the Senate introduced a procedure known as a cloture vote, where a super-majority of senators could force the end to a filibuster and bring the topic to a vote. The initial number of senators required for a super-majority was two-thirds; it was later changed to three-fifths, or 60 senators.
The rules were dramatically changed in 1975 in a way that allowed for many more filibusters to take place. Under these new rules, other business can be conducted while the filibuster is occurring, which has significantly stalled the process.
This brings us to the nuclear option. The nuclear option is a series of simple votes that changes the rules of the Senate so it only requires a simple majority vote as opposed to a super-majority. The process goes against Senate precedent and is seen as a fairly volatile option that can have ramifications for both parties.
What happened to make Republicans utilize the nuclear option? According to the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Senate Democrats have been engaged in “systematic obstruction,” delaying the confirmations of executive and judicial nominees and it is important to the country that these positions be filled. The nuclear option has decreased the debate time on District Court and sub-Cabinet nominees from 30 hours to two hours, which will allow Republicans to fill many more vacancies. On top of his explanation of “systematic obstruction,” McConnell claims that the Democrats’ slowing Trump’s nominees is “…new. And it needs to stop.”
However, the systematic obstruction of nominees is not new, and is not solely committed by the Democrats. For example, McConnell himself refused to hold hearings for former Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland for nearly a year after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, and never did hold a hearing.
The nuclear option has been employed in the past by both parties. In recent history, it was most prominently used first by Democrats in 2013 to make it easier to break filibusters on President Obama’s nominees, except to the Supreme Court. After this first incident, the Republicans engaged the nuclear option in 2017 to break filibusters over Supreme Court Nominees, and again this week. With the nuclear option used so often, many senators are concerned that the filibuster may become obsolete, which would devastate minority rights in the chamber. Overall, the use of the nuclear option is concerning because it significantly breaks Senate precedent, and could lead to more problems in the future for both parties when they are in the minority. It could also spell trouble for all Americans, because policy can go through more easily when it only requires a simple majority to end a filibuster, which can cause chaos in the future if different parties control the Senate every two years.
Did you know…Congress is in town and the education process for the three-month-old Congress is still ongoing! Help us educate members on the important role agents and brokers play in our healthcare system by contributing to HUPAC today. HUPAC gives us a voice in the crowded halls of Congress and puts your issues at the forefront. Click here to contribute. Every bit counts!
...according to FEC rules, contributions must be made by personal check, personal credit card or cash to the candidate fund? No corporate or business donations are allowed to the candidate fund and HUPAC cannot accept cash donations over $100. The maximum contribution by an individual is $5,000 per year for the candidate fund. Lastly, if a chapter or a person is acting as a "collecting agent," checks, cash, credit card and monthly bank draft/credit card draft forms MUST be forwarded to the NAHU offices in a timely manner. (Funds exceeding $50 must be sent within 10 days to the NAHU offices.)